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Letters of Cortes 

The Five Letters of Relation from Fernando 
Cortes to the Emperor Charles V. 

Translated, and Edited, with a Biographical Introduction 
and Notes Compiled from Original Sources 


Francis Augustus MacNutt 

In Two Volumes 
Volume One 

G. P. Putnam's Sons 
New York and London 
Zbc fJiUcl^erbocfter iprees 



Copyright, 1908 



Xlbe l^niclierbocher press, Dew TDotlt 


THE narrative contained in the Letters of Fernando 
Cortes is the first description ever written of the 
most highly developed civilisation on the conti- 
nent of North America at the date of its discovery. Astro- 
nomical science has brought the existence of planets within 
common knowledge, and our imagination is already so 
familiar with the possibility of a Martian population, that 
a discovery positively demonstrating such a fact would 
be received as confirmatory rather than surprising. By 
the discoveries of Christopher Columbus, the civilisations 
of two worlds as absolutely strange to one another as 
different planets were brought into sudden contact pro- 
ductive of conflict and that conflict was naturally fiercest 
where the alien invaders were confronted by the best 
organised effort to contest their advance ; hence the period 
of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, which is depicted by 
Cortes in these letters to Charles V. was prolific in deeds 
the most striking to the imagination of any that modern 
history records. No element of drama was absent, for 
the most heroic qualities, as well as the blackest passions 
of the human heart, were engaged on both sides in a life- 
and-death struggle, which culminated in an appalling 
race-tragedy, replete with epic horror. The piratical 
complexion of the Conqueror's initial movements forced 
him to wrest justification from success, and this was only 
made possible by the exercise of his indomitable courage, 
his relentless and unscrupvdous diplomacy, and by that 
strange favour, which capricious Fortune sometimes 
destines as a reward for sheer audacity. 

Fortunate for posterity was the anxious need of Cortes 

vi Preface 

to win royal approwil for his lawless courses, for from it 
sprang the inspiration which pr()mi)tcd him to pen his 
descriptions of the A/tec civilisation at the zenith of its 
splendour and to report in detail to his sovereign the 
progress of his conquest. 

Although historians have from the beginning recognised 
the superlative value of these letters and several editions 
of them are accessible to students familiar with the Spanish 
language, it has been left to my modest labours to provide 
an English translation of the complete series of Relacioties, 
The translation of sixteenth century Spanish into read- 
able, modem English is not devoid of difficulty, though 
greater demands are made on the translator's patience 
and ingenuity than on his erudition. 

Cortes wTote with soldier-like terseness, but his powers 
of observation were acute and accurate ; hence his descrip- 
tions are both lucid and striking. His vocabulary was 
very limited, and as he was unfamiliar with the classical 
and scholastic styles of composition then in vogue amongst 
men of letters, his plain tale is ungamished with the 
digressions into philosophy and theology and the lengthy 
citations from scripture and the classics, which abound in 
the more polished writings of his times. I suspect, more- 
over, that he had in mind to capture the fancy of the 
royal youth to w^hom he wTote, and, in days when novels 
were not, and court life must have weighed on a monarch 
of seventeen, still too young to be engrossed either in the 
delusive pleasures of private dissipation or in the ab- 
sorbing intrigues of public ambition, many of his pages 
may have furnished the youthful sovereign with diverting 
reading in his leisure hours 

I have aimed rather to preserve accuracy and the 
characteristics of Cortes 's original style than to produce 
a more finished piece of English literature, by excessive 
rearrangement and the employment of a richer vocabulary 
than he commanded. 

Preface vii 

The subjects touched upon in the Letters are so Httle 
known to the general reader (though they constantly 
engage the attention of able specialists) that I have 
supplied notes to accompany the text, which are intended 
to explain and complete the narrative of Cortes. These 
notes deal with various and very large subjects, on some 
of which historical authorities are not in agreement, while 
on many others of the greatest interest and importance 
the last word has not yet been spoken. The statements 
I have made and the opinions I have expressed on these 
debatable questions are based upon the results of my 
researches in the works cited in the Bibliographical Note 
preceding the Letters: their scope is explanatory and 
complementary — not controversial. 

The portrait of Cortes which appears as a frontispiece 
is after the alleged Titian, now in the possession of the 
Duque de Plasencia. 

The portrait of Charles V. represents that monarch in 
his early youth, at the time when Cortes first began his 
correspondence; it is reproduced from a print in the 
British Museum. 

The plan of the City of Mexico is taken from the His- 
toria Antigua of Sefior Manuel Orozco y Berra and the 
several maps are from the editions in which they originally 
appeared of the Storia Antica del Messico of Clavigero, 
1780, Lorenzana's Historia de Nueva Espana, 1770, and 
of C. St. John Fancourt's History of Yucatan from its 
Discovery to the Close of the Seventeenth Century. 

Since the days when those illustrious pioneers in this 
particular field of historical research, Washington Irving 
and William H. Prescott laboured with results that have 
won them enduring fame, the classification of the vast 
and scattered archives of Spain has gone steadily forward, 
with the result that the worker of to-day finds a mass of 
valuable material easily accessible that had formerly to 
be sought at great cost of time, labour, and expense in the 

viii Preface 

collections of state papers and correspondence which were 
not infrequently in a condition of disheartening and baf- 
fling confusion. The collections of inedited documents 
published by Rivadeneira under the title of Biblioteca de 
Autares Espanolcs, that of Navarrete published in Madrid 
in 1842, the Biblioteca Occidental oi Barcia, the voluminous 
French translations of Temaux-Compans, and finally the 
indefatigable labours of Senor Garcia Icazbalceta and 
Don Pascual Gayangos have cleared the modem student's 
path of formidable difficulties. 

Although I am the fortunate possessor of a number of 
these valuable collections, I have likewise had to make 
researches in libraries and collections, both public and 
private, in Mexico, Spain, Italy, and England, in the 
course of which I have met with courteous and helpful 
encouragement from many to whom my sense of obliga- 
tion is profound; but primarily I owe the pleasure and 
interest which the preparation of this work has afforded 
me to the late Abb6 Augustin Fischer, sometime chaplain 
to the ill-fated Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, under 
whose cultured guidance it was my privilege to begin 
my studies in Spanish-American history. The death of 
my delightful and accomplished mentor, after a life of 
great vicissitudes, deprives me of one of the chief satis- 
factions which the publication of this work would other- 
wise have afforded me, but it does not lessen my obligation 
to pay a tribute of grateful thanks to his memory. 

Francis A. MacNutt. 

Palazzo Pamphilj, 
Rome, October, 1907. 


Biographical Note: 

early days ...... 

colonial life in cuba .... 

the conqueror ..... 

marques del valle ..... 
Last Will and Testament of Fernando Cortes 
Bibliographical Note ..... 
First Letter, ]vLY 10,1519 
Second Letter, October 30, 1520 









Fernando Cortes ..... Frontispiece 

From an Engraving by Ferdin Selma, after the Painting by 

Cortes Coat-of-Arms , , , , On cover 

Plan of Mexico — Tenochtitlan .... i88 
From Conquista de Mexico, vol. iv. , by Orozco y Berra 

The Wall of Tlascala ....,, 200 
From Storia Antica del Messico, vol. ii., by Clavigero 





FERNANDO CORTES, son of Martin Cortes y 
Monroy and of Catalina Pizarro Altamirano, his 
wife, was born in 1485 at Medellin, an unim- 
portant town in Estremadura. The house in which he 
first saw the Hght stood in the Calle de la Feria until it 
was destroyed by the French in the campaign of 1809. 
(Alaman, Dissertazioni sulla Storia del Messico; Dis- 
sert. V.) Both his father's and his mother's fami- 
lies were of good descent, and respected, though 
poor. Martin Cortes had been a captain of fifty light 
cavalry, and he is further described by the anonymous 
author of De Rebus Gestis as ' ' pietate tamen et religione 
toto vitcB tempore clarus,'" while to his wife the same 
writer gives the highest praise, saying, " Caterina namque 
probitate pudicitia et in conjugem amore nulli cetatis suae 
femince cessit^ Las Casas also states that he had known 
Martin Cortes in a poor and humble condition, but that 
he was a Cristtano vie jo, and said to be a gentleman. 
Later when the great fame of Cortes had converted him 
into an ancestor of whom the most illustrious family 
might be proud, ingenious genealogists sought to prove 
him also the descendant of very noble, and even royal, 
forefathers; but these unconvincing efforts must seem 
somewhat unimportant in the case of one whose name 
and place in history were won by his own achievements, 
unaided by the support either of influential family or 
superior fortune. 

VOL. I. — I 

4 Letters of Cortes 

During his early childhood his health was so frail that 
he was several times thought to be at death's door. 
It seemed, therefore, all important to provide him with 
a powerful patron saint, who was finally chosen by draw- 
ing lots among the twelve apostles, the choice thus falling 
upon St. Peter, to whom Cortes rendered profound de- 
votion during all his life and to whose protection he 
constantly attributed his victories. 

When their son was fourteen years old, his parents sent 
him to the University of Salamanca to prepare himself 
for the practice of law, which was held in high esteem 
and opened a promising career to a young man of ability. 
During the two years he remained there, he lodged in the 
house of his paternal aunt, Inez de Paz, who was married 
to one Francisco Nufiez Valera. This brief course of 
study was sufficient to prove that he was in no way fitted 
for the profession his parents had chosen for him, so 
in 1 50 1 he caused them the liveliest chagrin by returning 
to iMedellin. 

An idle year of rather disorderly life followed. The 
boy's taste was for arms and adventures, and, after 
hovering between the rival attractions of the Italian 
campaign under Gonsalvo de Cordoba, and those of 
service with Don Nicolas de Ovando, the recently ap- 
pointed Governor of Hispaniola, he finally decided to 
join the latter, who was preparing to sail, with an im- 
portant fleet of thirty ships, fitted out at the royal ex- 
pense, to take possession of his office. In this he was 
urged, probably, by the consideration that the Governor 
was a family friend, who might be counted upon to ad- 
vance his interests. Just before sailing, however, Cortes 
had the mishap of falling from a wall which he was 
scaling to keep an appointment with a lady, an accident 
which might have ended fatally for him but for the 
intervention of an old woman who, attracted by the 
noise of his fall at her very door, arrived just in time to 

Early Days 5 

prevent her son-in-law from running him through the 
body as he lay prostrate. As it was, his bruises laid him 
up until after Ovando's fleet had sailed, and, upon his 
recovery, he went to Valencia with the intention of 
embarking for Italy to join the forces of the great Captain. 
What defeated his purpose is not recorded, but, upon his 
return to Medellin about a year later, his parents con- 
sented to his following Ovando and provided him with 
the money for his journey. He was thus enabled to 
sail from San Lucar de Barameda in 1504 on the trading 
vessel of one Alonzo Quintero of Palos, bound with four 
others carrying merchandise to the Indies. 

The little fleet touched first at the Canaries which was 
the usual route. Alonzo Quintero was a shifty fellow, 
who, twice on the voyage, sought to overreach his brother 
captains by detaching himself from the fleet in the hope 
of making port ahead of them and disposing of his cargo 
to advantage and without their competition. Both times, 
however, untoward weather overtook him, and, the second 
time, his pilot, Francisco Nino, lost his bearings, and 
the ship, in a bad condition, short of water and pro- 
visions was like to be lost. At dawn on Good Friday a 
dove was seen perching on the rigging, and, by following 
the flight of the bird of good omen, land was sighted 
by Cristobal Zorno on Easter Day, and four days later, 
the weather-beaten craft reached port where the others of 
the fleet had long since arrived and disposed of their goods. 

Seekers after signs and wonders were not slow to claim 
the appearance of this dove to guide Quintero 's ship 
at such a critical moment as evidence of the celestial 
protection and miraculous intervention of providence 
in the direction of Cortes's fortunes, of which numerous 
other similar examples are cited, and to which he him- 
self was always ready to ascribe his success; and, in 
the early chronicle, De Rebus Gestis of authoritative but 
unknown authorship, it is stated that, even at the time 

6 Letters of Cortes 

of this occurrence, there were those present who claimed 
to recognise the Holy Ghost in the white- winged pilot 
sent to rescue the hapless ship. — "Alius, Sanctum esse 
Spiritiim, qui in illius alitis specie, ut mcestos et afflictos 
soLarctiir, venire erat dignatusy 

The Governor being absent, his secretary, Medina, who 
already knew Cortes, met him upon his landing, and gave 
him hospitality in his house, acquainting him with the con- 
dition of things in the island, and ad\4sing him to settle 
near the town. To this Cortes is said to have replied 
that he had come to seek gold rather than to till the 
ground. During the war against Queen Anacoana of 
Hayti, which followed close upon his arrival, the horrors 
of which have been described first by Las Casas and later 
by Washington Ir\4ng, Cortes gave a very good account of 
himself, and upon the establishment of peace he received 
a grant of good land and a repariimiento of Indians at 
Daiguao where he was likewise appointed notary of the 
newly founded town of Azua. (Gomara, Cronica. Cap. 
Ill ■,Dc Rebus Gestis) . During the five or six ensuing years, 
his life was that of a planter, and was barren of any salient 
event, though Bemal Diaz says that he was involved 
in several affairs about women which led to quarrels 
and duels, in one of which he was wounded in the lip. 
He was prevented by an opportune illness from joining the 
luckless expedition of Alonso de Ojedo and Diego de 
Nicuesa to Darien. Don Nicolas de Ovando was succeeded 
in the office of Governor by Don Diego Columbus, who 
in 151 1 fitted out an expedition for the conquest of Cuba, 
which he placed under the command of Don Diego Velas- 
quez, and in which Cortes volunteered. 

His conduct at this time advanced his interests in every 
respect, for his genial character and lively conversation 
soon made him a favourite with his companions in arms, 
while his bravery and address acquired him the best 
reputation as a soldier and attracted the attention of his 

Early Days 7 

commander. This conquest afforded indeed but scanty 
opportunity either to the commander or the soldiers of 
the invading force to display their prowess, for the pacific 
natives were hunted through the island like timorous 
hares to yield after the feeblest resistance only. Thus 
they were brought into subjection with the barest sem- 
blance of serious military operations. Yet such mild 
warfare and the equally nerveless conflicts in the island 
of Hispaniola (San Domingo) supplied Cortes with the only 
training in campaigning he ever received. The skill he 
later displayed in military tactics, and his masterly 
generalship, were due to his latent genius, which sprang 
fully fledged into consciousness in response to the first 
demand made upon it, furnishing him liberally with an 
equipment for conquest which less gifted commanders 
must wrest from experience. 

He received in recognition of his services in Cuba, an 
encomienda of Indians at Manicaro where he settled, 
becoming a citizen of Santiago. Gomara states that he 
was successful in the management of his estate, and was 
the first of the colonists to introduce certain breeds of 
sheep and cattle into the island. He had as his partner 
at Manicaro, Juan Xuarez. 

Here may be said to close the first period of the life 
of Cortes, which might have been that of any spirited 
young Spaniard of his class and times, fretting within 
the restrictions of a provincial town, averse to the plodding 
career offered him by his parents, and finally cutting loose 
and winning his place in a new life in the colonies, by 
force of valour in feats of arms, and his ability in man- 
aging affairs. 



1NF0RJMATI0N concerning the events of the first 
years of the residence of Cortes in the island of Cuba 
is scanty, but it may be assumed that he attended 
to his interests, which prospered, and enjoyed considerable 
popularity among his fellow-colonists as well as the 
favour of the Governor, Diego Velasquez, who extended 
a protecting friendship to him such as an older man of 
high rank might naturally feel for one of the most promis- 
ing young men among his colonists. Mr. George Folsom, 
in the Introduction to his English translation of the De- 
spat dies of Hernando Cortes (New York, 1843), says that 
Velasquez was brother-in-law to Cortes, having married 
one of the Xuarez sisters. I have found no authority for 
thisassertion, and, a few pages farther on, the same writer 
describes Velasquez as seeking to arrange a marriage for 
himself with a sister of the Bishop of Burgos. This 
alleged relationship between the two through their 
marriages is apocr>^phal. 

As the changes which the relations between these two 
men underwent, worked powerfully and far upon the 
course of events in the New World, it is necessary before 
going further to consider somewhat the character of 
Diego Velasquez, and the causes w^hich brought about the 
breach in their friendship. Oviedo states that Velasquez 
was of noble family, and, though arriving in the Indies 
poor, had there accumulated an ample fortune. His 
military experience had been gained by seventeen years 


Colonial Life in Cuba 9 

of service in European wars. The anonymous author 
of De Rebus Gestis confirms these points adding, " He 
was covetous of glory and somewhat more so of money." 
The latter also represents that an intimate friendship 
existed during several years between the two in Hispaniola, 
and that Velasquez had insisted on Cortes's joining his ex- 
pedition, to which the latter counselled by friendship and 
his longing for adventures, readily consented. Velasquez 
had the habit of command, which as Governor of Cuba 
he exercised with the scarcely restricted and arbitrary 
freedom which his own temperament dictated, and the 
usage amongst Spanish colonial governors sanctioned. 
With all this he was amiable, accessible, and fond of 
dispensing favours. Prescott estimates him as one of 
those captious persons who " when things do not go ex- 
actly to their taste, shift the responsibility from their 
own shoulders where it should lie to those of others," 
and Herrera describes him as " ungenerous, credulous, and 
suspicious ! ' ' Fray Bartolome de Las Casas, who knew him 
personally in Cuba gives more place to his virtues in the 
description he has left of him, than do some others ; while 
admitting that he was quick to resent a liberty, jealous 
of his dignity, easily taking offence, he adds that he was 
not vindictive nor slow to forgive. As an administrator 
of the affairs of the island he showed himself active and 
capable, encouraging immigration, assisting the colonists, 
and extending the zone of Spanish influence. He founded 
many towns, some of which still bear the names he 
gave them, notably Havana, Puerto del Principe, Mat- 
anzas, Trinidad, and Santiago where he had his seat of 
government. It appears therefore that Diego Velasquez 
was a man whose rather petty defects of character did not 
usually interfere with his public conduct and who dis- 
charged his official duties satisfactorily to the colonists 
and as a faithful representative of the crown. He was, 
however, unquestionably avaricious, egotistical, and 

lo Letters of Cortes 

ambitious; withal no easy master to serve. Commenting 
on the reproaches he afterwards heaped upon Cortes for 
his ingratitude towards him, Ovicdo says that it was 
no whit worse than his own had been towards his bene- 
factor, Diego Columbus, and hence it was "measure for 
measure." His desire to explore and conquer by deputy, 
and to win distinction vicariously, was defeated by the 
impossibility of finding men possessed of the required 
ability to undertake successfully such ventures, combined 
with sufficient docility to surrender to him the glory and 
profits resulting from them. 

The two fundamental versions of the historic quarrel be- 
tween Cortes and Velasquez are contradictory. One is 
furnished by Gomara, the other by Las Casas, and, upon 
one or the other, later historians have based their accounts. 
The version ot Las Casas is that of an eye-witness, for he 
was present in Cuba at the time, and knew both men well. 
He stood high in the favour of the Governor, but, even 
allowing something for the bias of personal friendship 
and possibly something more for the influence of Velas- 
quez's position, his acknowledged integrity excludes the 
possibility of a conscious mis-statement of facts, and 
hence the greatest weight attaches to his testimony. 
Gomara, on the other hand, was never in Cuba in his life 
and only began his Cronica de la Conquista some twenty- 
five years or more after the events of which he wrote, under 
the inspiration and direction of Cortes, then Marques 
del Valle, whose chaplain he had shortly before become. 

Gomara's chronicle was somewhat of the nature of an 
apologia, and it no sooner appeared than its accuracy 
and veracity were impugned by participants in the events 
he described; notably by Bernal Diaz del Castillo, whose 
work was undertaken for the declared purpose of correct- 
ing Gomara, and was called with emphasis the "True 
History" of the conquest. Gomara's account is briefly 
as follows: Cortes at that time paid court to Catalina 

Colonial Life in Cuba ii 

Xuarez la Marcaida, one of the poor but beautiful sisters 
of his partner in Manicaro, Juan Xuarez, and won such 
favours from the lady as entitled her to exact the ful- 
filment of a promise of marriage which she declared he had 
made her, but with which he refused to comply. The 
Xuarez family was from Granada and came originally in 
the suite of Dona Maria de Toledo, wife of the Viceroy 
Don Diego Columbus to] Hispaniola, where it was hoped 
the four girls whose only dowry was their beauty might 
make good marriages among the rich planters. This 
hope was not realised in San Domingo and they removed 
to Cuba. Catalina, the eldest, was the most beautiful 
of all and had many admirers, amongst whom her pre- 
ference fell upon Cortes, who was ever ready for gallant 
adventures. The matter was brought before the Governor 
who summoned Cortes ad audiendum verbum, influenced 
in Catalina' s favour it was said, by one of her sisters to 
whose charms he himself was not indifferent. But, in 
spite of official pressure, Cortes refused to make the 
reparation exacted of him. Such high words followed that 
the Governor ordered him to be imprisoned in the fortress 
under the charge of the alcalde Cristobal de Lagos. His 
imprisonment was brief , for he managed to escape, carrying 
off the sword and buckler of his gaoler, and took sanctuary 
in a church, from which neither the promises nor the 
threats of Velasquez could beguile him. One day, how- 
ever, when he unwarily showed himself before the church 
door, the alguacil Juan Escudero seized him from behind, 
and, aided by others, carried him on board a ship ly- 
ing in the harbour. Cortes feared this foreshadowed 
transportation, and, setting his wits to work, he contrived 
to escape a second time, dressed in the clothes of a servant 
who attended him. He let himself down into a small skiff 
and pulled for the shore, but the strength of the current 
at that point, where the waters of the Macaguanigua River 
flow into the sea, was such that his frail craft capsized, 

12 Letters of Cortes 

and he reached the shore swimming, with certain valuable 
papers tied in a packet on the top of his head. He then 
betook himself to Juan Xuarez, from whom he procured 
clothes and arms, and again took sanctuary in the church. 
These repeated escapes suggest sympathetic collusion 
on the part of his gaolers. 

Velasquez professed to be won over by such bravery 
and resource, and sent mutual friends to make peace. 
But Cortes, although he married Catalina, refused the 
Governor's overtures and would not even speak to him, 
until, some Indian troubles breaking out, and Velasquez 
being at his headquarters outside the town, he somewhat 
alarmed the Governor by suddenly appearing before him 
late one night, fully armed, saying that he had come to 
make peace and to offer his sen-ices. They shook hands 
and spent a long time in conversation together, and slept 
that night in the same bed, w'here they were found next 
morning by Diego de Orellana who came to announce 
to the Governor that Cortes had fled from the church. 
This version is accepted by the author of De Rebtis Gestis 
without reservation; Solis, while omitting the details, 
also dwells upon the intimate friendship existing betw^een 
the two men. 

Las Casas tells a different tale, in which no mention is 
made of the refusal to marry Catalina Xuarez as having 
any part in the quarrel, but asserts rather that Cortes 
was secretary to Velasquez, and that the new^s of the 
arrival of certain appellate judges in Hispaniola having 
reached Cuba, all the malcontents in the colony, and 
those disaffected towards Velasquez, began secretly to 
collect material on which to base accusations against him, 
and that Cortes, acting with them, had been chosen to 
carry this information to the judges. The Governor was 
informed of the plot, and arrested Cortes in the act of em- 
barking, with the incriminating papers in his possession, 
and would have ordered him to be hanged on the spot but 

Colonial Life in Cuba 13 

for the intervention of his friends who pleaded for him. 
A memorial presented to the King on behalf of Velasquez 
by his chaplain Benito Martinez enumerates this, 
amongst other grievances of the Governor, and 
fully confirms the statement of Las Casas on this point. 
Las Casas admits the story of the imprisonment, the es- 
cape, and the sanctuary in the church, but he scouts the 
idea of any such reconciliation as Gomara describes, and 
says that the Governor, although he pardoned him, would 
not have him back as secretary, adding, " I saw Cortes 
in those days so small and humble that he would have 
craved the notice of the meanest servant of Velasquez." 

Las Casas reminds his readers that Gomara wrote of 
things about which he knew only what Cortes and his 
adherents told him, and at a time when Cortes, who had 
risen from small beginnings to great rank and fame, was 
anxious to have his former humble condition forgotten. 
It should be borne in mind that Las Casas never ceased to 
regard Cortes as other than an exceptionally bold and 
lucky adventurer, nor did he ever miss an opportunity 
of recalling his humble origin and irregular beginnings. 
The wrath of Velasquez was short lived, for he afterwards 
made Cortes, alcalde, and stood godfather to one of 
his children. During the succeeding years the fortunes of 
Cortes improved, and he amassed a capital of some three 
thousand castellanos, of which Las Casas remarks 
" God will have kept a better account than I of the lives 
it cost." Though married reluctantly, he seems to have 
been contented, and he described himself to the bishop 
as just as happy with Catalina as though she were the 
daughter of a duchess (Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, 
lib. iii, cap. xxvii.). 

Don jManuel Orozco y Berra unhesitatingly accepts the 
version of Las Casas, and Prescott inclines also to the 
opinion that Gomara' s account is improbable. Indeed 
he seeks to prove too much, and his description of the 

14 Letters of Cortes 

Reconciliation is overcharged, for the Governor was more 
than dignified — he was pompous, and something of a 
martinet in his ideas of discipHne, being so tenacious of 
etiquette that no one, not even the first citizens in the 
colony sat uninvited in his presence. Nor had he ever 
stood in relations of equal comradeship to Cortes, how- 
ever friendly he may have been, hence it is not to be 
imagined that he humbled himself to offer a reconciliation, 
being first rebuffed by his subordinate, and afterwards, 
when it suited the latter to present himself before him, that 
he celebrated the resumption of friendly relations with 
such demonstrations of affection and intimacy as Gomara 
describes. If the Gomara version is the true one, and the 
quarrel had no other origin than the hot words exchanged 
concerning Cortes's conduct in a private affair which, 
strictly speaking, was no concern of the Governor's, 
Velasquez might easily have forgiven and forgotten, es- 
pecially as the lady's honour was saved, if but tardily. 
But if the statement of Las Casas is correct, and the 
Governor discovered his secretary in the act of plotting 
with his enemies for his overthrow, then Diego Velasquez 
must be considered to have been the most fatuous and 
frivolous of men. ^Magnanimity might prompt forgiveness 
of even such treachery, and Velasquez might choose to 
forget the falsity of a man whose enmity he could afford 
to ignore or despise, but to afterwards confide the most 
important venture of his life to such a one was a blunder, 
than which it would be difficult to imagine a greater. Yet 
Diego Velasquez's vast capacity for blundering enabled 
him even to do this. 

Gold was the magnet which drew the Spanish adven- 
turers to the New World, and though it had nowhere been 
found either so easily or so plentifully as they expected, 
enough had been discovered to whet their appetites for 
more. They lived in the midst of a world of mysterious 
possibilities which might any day by a lucky discovery 

Colonial Life in Cuba 15 

become realities. One navigator after another sailed 
the seas of unknown limits, discovered islands, landed on 
strange coasts, beheld primeval forests and lofty mountain- 
peaks clothed with untrodden snows, and, returning to 
the settlements on the islands, they brought back more 
or less accurate accounts of lands where gold and pearls 
were plentiful, peopled by natives eager to exchange these 
treasures for Spanish trinkets, at the same time producing 
enough specimens of precious metal to vouch for the 
truth of their descriptions. Rich colonists, as well as 
merchants in Cadiz and Seville, were easily found to 
risk funds in fitting out expeditions for the dual purpose 
of exploration and trade, while numberless were the skilful 
pilots, daring sailors, and bold soldiers of fortune ready 
to enlist for such serv-ice. After conquering Puerto Rico, 
Juan Ponce de Leon cruised among the Lucayan Islands, 
and in 1512, discovered the coast which he named 
Florida, where, instead of the fountain of eternal youth 
he sought, he met his death; in 15 13, Balboa first beheld 
the Pacific Ocean from the mountain ridge on the isthmus 
of Darien ; in 1 5 1 5 Juan Diaz de Solis discovered the mouth 
of the river Plate. 

In 1 5 1 7 Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba, a rich planter 
of Cuba, organised and equipped a fleet of three vessels, 
manned in part by some of the survivors of the first 
colony at Darien, and of which he himself took command. 
The principal object of this expedition was to capture 
Indians to be sold as slaves in Cuba, and the Governor 
furnished one ship on condition that he should be reim- 
bursed in slaves (Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 
i.) . The first land discovered was a small island to which 
the name of Las Mugeres (Women's Island) was given, be- 
cause of the images of female deities which they found in 
the temple there. This island lies off the extreme point 
of Yucatan, and from it the Spaniards saw what seemed to 
them a large and important city with many towers and 

1 6 Letters of Cortes 

lofty buiUlings, to which they gave the fanciful name of 
Grand Cairo. They discovered the island of Cozumel, and, 
in a battle with the Indians at Catoche, they captured 
two natives who afterwards became Christians, baptised 
under the names of Julian and Melchor, and rendered 
valuable services as interpreters. Besides the coast of 
Yucatan, the most interesting discovery made by this ex- 
pedition was the mysterious crosses which they found the 
Indians venerating at Cozumel. Francisco Hernandez de 
Cordoba died a few days after his arrival in Cuba from the 
wounds he had received at Catoche, and the other members 
of the expedition made their way back to Santiago where 
the spoils taken from the temples, the small quantity 
of gold, the two strange Indians, and most of all the 
marvellous tales of the men served to excite the eager 
cupidity of the colonists, ever ready to believe that El- 
dorado was found. The news spread throughout the 
islands, and even reached Spain and Flanders, where the 
young King Charles the First (the Emperor Charles V.), 
then was. 

Diego Velasquez promptly organised an expedition to 
follow up these discoveries, and establish trading relations 
with the natives, which he placed under the command 
of his kinsman, Juan de Grijalba. It was composed of 
four ships, the San Sebastian, La Trinidad, Santiago, and 
Santa Maria. The captains under Grijalba were Francisco 
de Avila, Pedro de Alvarado, and Francisco de Monteio 
(Bemal Diaz, cap. viii; Oviedo, Sumario, lib. xvii., cap. 
viii., Orozco y Berra, Conquista de Mexico, vol. iv., cap. i). 
This fleet set sail on May i, 1518, and after a fair voyage 
reached the island of Cozumel on May 3rd {Itinerario de 
larmata del Re Cattolico apud Icazhalceta, Documentos 
Ineditos, vol, i.). 

Grijalba \dsited several points along the coast, giving 
Spanish names to various bays, islands, rivers, and towns. 
The Tabasco River, of which the correct Indian name 

Colonial Life in Cuba 17 

seems to have been Tabzcoob, received the name of 
Grijalba. On arriving at the river which they named 
Banderas, because of the numerous Indians carrying 
white flags whom they saw along the coast, they first 
heard of the existence of Montezuma, of whom these 
people were vassals, and by whom they had been ordered 
to keep a look out for the possible return of the white 
men, whose former visit to Cozumel had been reported 
to the Emperor. On the 1 7th of June, a landing was made 
on a small island, where the Spaniards first discovered 
proofs that human sacrifices and cannibalism were 
practised by the natives, for they found there a blood- 
stained idol, human heads, members, and whole bodies, 
with the breasts cut open and the hearts gone. They 
named the island Isla de los Sacrificios (Oviedo, lib. xvii., 
cap. xiv.). 

From the island which they named San Juan de Ulua 
(from the word Culua which they imperfectly caught 
from the natives), Grijalba sent Pedro de Alvarado on 
June 24th, with the San Sebastian to carry the results 
of his trading operations, and an account of his discov- 
eries to Diego Velasquez, and to ask for an authorisation 
to colonise which had not been given in his original 
instructions, but which the members of the expedition 
exacted should now be granted (Las Casas, Hist, de las 
Indias, lib. iii., cap. cxii.). 

Diego Velasquez had meanwhile felt some impatience, 
which gradually became alarm at hearing nothing from 
his expedition, so he sent Cristobal de Olid with a ship 
to look for it. Olid landed also at Cozumel, and took 
formal possession by right, as he supposed, of discovery. 
After coasting about for some time, and finding no traces 
of Grijalba, and having been obliged to cut his cables 
in a storm which had lost him his anchors, he returned 
to Cuba to augment the uneasiness of the Governor. At 
this juncture, however, Alvarado arrived with the treasure 

i8 Letters of Cortes 

and Grijalba's report, which threw the Governor into 
an ecstasy of hope, and plunged all the colony into the 
greatest excitement. Without waiting for more news, 
Velasquez set about preparing another expedition, and 
sent Juan de Saucedo to Hispaniola to solicit from 
the Jeronymite Fathers the necessary authority for his 
undertaking, whose objects it was stated were to look 
for Grijalba's lost armada, which might be in danger, 
to seek for Cristobal de Olid (notwithstanding he was 
already safely returned), and to rescue six Spanish 
captives who were said to be prisoners of a cacique 
in Yucatan. On October 5th, Grijalba arrived in Cuba 
with his ships, and was coldly recei\ed by the Governor, 
who professed himself much disappointed at the meagre 
results of the voyage, and criticised the captain severely 
for not having yielded to his companions' wishes to found 
a settlement on the newly discovered coast, despite his 
own instructions to the contrary. 

Several names w^ere under consideration for the com- 
mandership of the new armada but one after another was 
excluded, and the Governor's final choice fixed upon 
Fernando Cortes CLas Casas, lib. iii., cap. civ.; Bernal 
Diaz, cap. xix.). 

This selection was attributed to the influence of Amador 
de Lares, a royal official of astute character who exercised 
a certain ascendency over Velasquez, and of Andres de 
Duero, the Governor's private secretary, both of whom 
Cortes had induced to present his name and secure his 
appointment, by promises of a generous share of the 
treasures to be discovered. Since both Grijalba and 
Olid were safely back in Cuba, the only one of the three 
reasons first advanced for this expedition w^hich remained 
was the rescue of the Christian captives in Yucatan, 
and, although Velasquez had severely censured Grijalba 
for not establishing a colony or trading post somewhere, 
he also omitted this authorisation in his instructions 

Colonial Life in Cuba 19 

to Cortes. These instructions are dated October 23, 
15 18, and consist of thirty items of minute and tedious 
directions and counsels, covering every imaginable emer- 
gency. They are quoted in full in the Documentos Inedi- 
tos del Archivode Indias in pages 59-79, inclusive, in the 
fourth volume of Orozco y Berra. The document opens 
by stating that the glory of God and the spread of the 
faith being the chief objects of the undertaking, only 
God-fearing and loyal men should be allowed to compose 
it; swearing and blasphemy against God, the blessed 
Virgin, and the saints are provided against by the severest 
penalties ; the men are not to take concubines with them 
nor to give scandal by communication with native women ; 
nor is gambling to be permitted in any form, dice being 
forbidden on board the ships. The exhaustive instructions 
concerning exploration and trading contain no mention 
of any authorisation to colonise, but very full powers 
are granted the commander to cover unforeseen cases. 

Cortes threw himself heart and soul into the new 
enterprise which offered him exactly the opportunity 
in search of w^hich he had come to the Indies fourteen 
years before. The mutual recriminations, afterw^ards 
indulged in, so obscure the facts that it is difficult to 
discover exactly what share of the expense of the equip- 
ment was borne by each, but of Cortes it must be said that 
he staked ever3rthing he possessed or could procure on 
the venture, even raising loans by mortgages on his pro- 
perty. Bernal Diaz states that the amount he expended 
was four thousand <io//ar5 in gold, besides supplying many 
provisions. In the sworn statement of Puertocarrero made 
in La Coruna, April, 1520, the witness said that Cortes 
had paid two thirds of the total costs. Gomara de- 
scribes Velasquez as stingy and timid, wishing to fit out 
the armada with the least possible risk to himself, and 
that he proposed to halve the cost. 

The appointment of Cortes to such an important com- 

20 Letters of Cortes 

mand did not fail to arouse jealousies on the part of some, 
and the increased consequence which he gave himself in his 
dress, manners, and way of living served to stimulate these 
sentiments, so that hardly had the work of organisation 
got fairly under way, when these mischief makers adroitly 
began to work on the suspicious spirit of Velasquez. A 
dwarf, who played court jester in the Governor's household, 
wasinspired to make oracular jokes in which thinly veiled 
warnings of what was to be expected from Cortes's over- 
masterful spirit, once he was free from control and in com- 
mand of such an armada, were conveyed to Velasquez; 
these double barbed jests did not fail of their purpose, so 
that his distrust finally completely mastered his reason, and 
pushed him to the incredible folly of deciding to revoke 
Cortes's appointment as commander, and substitute one 
Vasco Porcallo a native of Caceres. This decision he 
made known to Lares and Duero, the very men through 
whom Cortes had negotiated to obtain his place, and they 
hastened to warn their protege of the Governor's intention. 
To accept the humiliation, the public ridicule, to say 
nothing of the financial ruin into which the revocation 
of his appointment almost on the eve of sailing w^ould 
have plunged him, w^as an alternative which never could 
have been for a moment considered by Cortes, who im- 
mediately took the one step essential to his salvation, 
which was to hasten his preparations, and, by unflagging 
efforts, to get his provisions and men on board that same 
day, and stand down the bay with all his ships during 
the night. He even seized the entire meat supply of the 
town for which he paid with a gold chain he w^ore. The 
accounts of the manner of the departure of the fleet also 
conflict. It has been represented as a veritable flight, 
but Bemal Diaz avers that, although he got ever3rthing 
ready very quickly and hastened the date of sailing, Cortes 
went with a number of others, and took formal leave of 
the Governor with embraces and mutual good wishes, 

Colonial Life in Cuba 21 

and that after he had heard mass, Diego Velasquez came 
down to the port to see the armada off. Las Casas how- 
ever says that Velasquez only heard very early in 
the morning (from the butcher probably), that the pre- 
parations had been so rapidly pushed forward, and that 
rising from bed he made haste to the port accompanied 
by all the citizens in a state of great wonder and ex- 
citement. As soon as the Governor appeared, Cortes 
approached within a bow-shot of the shore in a boat 
full of his friends, all fully armed, and, in reply to the 
Governor's upbraidings and reproaches for such un- 
seemly haste in his leave-taking, replied that, " some 
things were better done first and thought about afterwards 
and this was one of them " ; after which bit of exculpating 
philosophy he returned to his ship, and the armada sailed 
away. Although Gomara, in whom we hear Cortes him- 
self, agrees essentially with Las Casas in thus describing 
the departure, the story of the dialogue between Cortes 
in the midst of a boat-load of armed friends and Velas- 
quez, helpless on the quay, surrounded by excited col- 
onists, savours more of fiction than of fact. The simple 
and natural version of Bernal Diaz is more in consonance 
with Cortes's character, and he doubtless exercised 
scrupulous care to avoid provoking the testy Governor. 
Aware of the intrigues against him and the uncertainty 
of his position, his safety lay in pushing forward his 
preparations with unostentatious haste, masking his 
determination under an astute display of increased defer- 
ence towards his suspicious superior. Although Cortes 
had evidently secured his captains, and could count on 
his crews, the moment for an act of open defiance was not 
yet, nor did Velasquez, in a letter dated November 17,1519, 
to the licenciate Figueroa which was to be delivered to 
Charles V., allege any such, though he would hardly have 
failed to make the most of each item in his arraignment 
of his rebellious lieutenant. Stopping at Macaca, Trini- 

22 Letters of Cortes 

dad, and Havana, he forcibly seized stores at these places, 
and also from ships which he stopped, sometimes paying 
for them, and sometimes giving receipts and promises. 
Everywhere he increased his aiTnament, and enlisted 
more men. 

The Governor's uneasy suspicions augmented after the 
sailing of the fleet, being also aggravated by the acts of 
the members of his household who were jealous of the 
sudden rise in Cortes's fortunes, and possibly also honestly 
distrustful of the signs of independence he had already 
manifested. In the work of fretting Velasquez, a half 
foolish astrologer was called in, w^ho delivered oracular 
warnings, and imputed to Cortes schemes of revenge 
for past wrongs, (referring to his imprisonment by the 
Governor's orders), and forecasting treachery. These 
representations harmonised but too well with Velasquez's 
own fears, and easily prevailed upon him to try to recall 
his attainted lieutenant by sending decisive orders to his 
brother-in-law, Francisco Verdugo, alcalde mayor of Trini- 
dad, to assume command of the fleet until Vasco Porcallo, 
who had been appointed successor to Cortes should arrive. 
For greater security, he repeated these instructions to 
Diego de Ordaz, Francisco de j\Iorla, and others on whose 
loyalty to himself the hapless Governor thought he could 
count. Nobody, however, undertook to carry out the 
orders to displace and imprison Cortes, whose faculty 
for making friends was such that he had already won 
overall those on whom Velasquez relied, especially Ordaz 
and Verdugo. The very messengers who brought the 
official orders to degrade and imprison him went over to 
Cortes, and joined the expedition. Public sympathy was 
entirely with him, for he had rallied some of the best men 
in Cuba to his standard, who thus had a stake in the 
success of the enterprise which depended primarily on the 
ability of the commander. In Cortes they had full con- 
fidence, and it suited neither their temper nor their interest 

Colonial Life in Cuba 23 

to see him superseded. It was Cortes himself who replied 
to the Governor's letters, seeking to reassure him with 
protestations of loyalty and affection, counselling him 
meanwhile to silence the malicious tongues of the mischief 
makers in Santiago, 

The Governor was in no way tranquillised by such a com- 
munication ; on the contrary, the suppression of his orders 
by Verdugo enraged him beyond measure. The fleet 
had meanwhile gone to Havana whither a confidential 
messenger, one Garnica, was sent with fresh, and more 
stringent orders to the lieutenant-governor, Pedro Barba, 
who resided there, positively forbidding the fleet to sail, 
and ordering the immediate imprisonment of Cortes. 
Diego Velasquez was rarely happy in his choice of men 
and, in this instance his "confidential" messenger not 
only brought these official orders to the lieutenant- 
governor, but he likewise delivered to Fray Bartolom^ 
Olmedo, the chaplain of the expedition, a certain letter 
from another priest who was in the executive household, 
warning Cortes of the sense of the Governor's orders. 
Failure attended all Velasquez's efforts, for Don Pedro 
Barba replied, telling him plainly that it was not in his 
power to stop Cortes, who was so popular, not only with 
his troops but also with the townspeople, that any attempt 
to interfere with him would result in a general rising 
in his favour. Bernal Diaz declares that they would 
have died for him, to a man. 

During these days he played, as he himself afterwards 
described it to Las Casas, the " part of the gentle corsair." 
Parting in this manner from the royal Governor of Cuba, 
joint owner of the ships and their contents, it is obvious 
that there was no turning back for Cortes ; he was hence- 
forth driven forward by the knowledge that sure disgrace, 
very likely death was behind him, and drawn on by the 
enticing prospect of achieving such complete success 
as should vindicate his lawless courses. To redeem the 

24 Letters of Cortes 

in-egularity of these initial proceedings, it was incumbent 
on Cortes from thenceforth to hedge his every act with 
the strictest legal sanctions, and we search in vain for the 
slightest lapse from prescribed forms in all the succeeding 
acts of his career. 



TPIE entire fleet sailed for the island of Cozumel 
on February lo, 15 19, and the first vessel to 
land was the one commanded by Pedro de Alvar- 
ado. Alvarado began his career by an act of disobedience 
to orders, characteristic of his headstrong and cruel tem- 
perament, which procured him a severe reprimand from 
the comimander, who arrived two days later and found 
that the Indians had all been frightened away by the 
Spaniards' violence in plundering their town and taking 
some of them prisoners. Cortes's policy in dealing with 
the natives was forcibly declared at the very outset, for 
the pilot Camacho, who had brought the vessel to land 
before the others, he clapped into irons, for disobeying 
his orders, and he rebuked Alvarado, explaining to him 
that his measures were fatal to the success of the expedi- 
tion. The Indian prisoners were not only released, but 
each received gifts, and all were assured through the inter- 
preters, Melchor and Julian, that they should suffer no 
further harm, and that they should therefore go and call 
back the others who had fled. Everything that had been 
stolen from the town was restored, and the fowls and other 
provisions which had been eaten were all paid for liberally. 
Discipline was enforced also among the Spaniards, and 
seven sailors, who were found guilty of stealing some 
bacon from a soldier, were sentenced to be publicly 

The opinion that Cortes's followers formed a lawless 


26 Letters of Cortes 

band of marauders, which rioted unchecked through 
Mexico, pillaging, torturing, and outraging the natives, 
has been lightly formed, and too generally accepted. 
These facts, however, point to a different state of things. 

We read in the first letter the concise and simple 
account of the change in the character of the expedition, 
and of the founding of a Spanish settlement at Vera 
Cruz, and that this decision originated spontaneously, 
and all but unanimously, among the members of it. 
Their high motives — ^the conversion of barbarians to the 
true faith, and the subjection of vast and fabulously 
rich kingdoms to the Spanish crown — impelled them in 
these superlative interests to set aside the trivial pro- 
jects of Diego Velasquez, and to impose upon Cortes 
the office of His Majesty's lieutenant. They required his 
acceptance of this duty by formal act of a notary public, 
and under menace of reporting his disloyalty to the 
emperor should he refuse to comply with the will of the 
community. Thus, from the simple commander of a 
few trading vessels commissioned by the Governor of 
Cuba to take soundings and exchange Spanish beads for 
Mexican gold, in the interest of his employer, Cortes 
appears, transformed into the Spanish sovereign's lawful 
representative, holding power conferred by a legally 
established Spanish municipal corporation, recognising 
no superior in the new world, and exercising his functions 
in the royal name ; and the band of adventurers becomes 
a regularly organised colony, with its administration and 
its municipal officers bearing the same titles, and em- 
powered to perform the same functions, as though the 
scrambling settlement of Vera Cruz were stately Seville 
or historic Toledo. All these creations are described as 
existing subject to an expression of the sovereign's 
will, and the royal sanction for all that had been done 
in the interest of the crown is humbly petitioned. 

In dealing with the Indians the same strict observance 

The Conqueror 27 

of legal form was never once relaxed. They were first 
invited to renounce idolatry and embrace Christianity; 
and they were "required " — just as solemnly as Cortes 
was by the Vera Cruz magistrates — to acknowledge the 
supremacy of the Spanish crown. A notary public 
performed this function of his office as gravely as a sheriff 
in our own day reads the riot act, and calls on a mob to 
disperse before resorting to force. That the " require- 
ment " was unintelligible to the Indians did not invalidate 
the act of promulgation. The strength, also, of Cortes's 
position invariably lay in the identity of his ambitions 
with the interests of the crown; he was always right. By 
no other conceivable policy could he have accomplished 
what he did. The men whom Velasquez, in his helpless 
rage, sent to supersede or overthrow him, were mere 
playthings for his far-seeing statecraft and his overpower- 
ing will. The story of these events appears in all its 
wonderful simplicity and astounding significance, told 
in Cortes's own words in these letters, which have been 
compared with the Commentaries of Caesar on his 
campaigns in Gaul, without suffering by the comparison. 
Gaul, when overrun and conquered by Julius Caesar, 
possessed no such political organisation as did the Aztec 
Empire when it was subdued by Cortes. There were 
neither cities comparable with Tlascala and Cholula, nor 
was there any central military organisation corresponding 
to the triple alliance of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, andTlaco- 
pan, with their vast dependencies, from which countless 
hordes of warriors were drawn. On the other hand 
while Caesar led the flower of the Roman legions, Cortes 
captained a mixed band of a few hundred men, ill-trained, 
undisciplined, indifferent to schemes of conquest, and bent 
only on their own individual aggrandisement; of whom 
many were also disaffected towards the commanders, 
and required alternate cajoling and threats to hold them 
in hand. The very men who were sent under Narvaez 

28 Letters of Cortes 

to take him alive or dead, and bring him back to the 
vengeance of Diego Velasquez, were won over to his stand- 
ard, and fought under his leadership until Mexico fell, 
while their rightful commander lay a prisoner at Vera 
Cniz. Tapia was stripped of his goods and bundled 
ignominiously back to Cuba with their price in his pock- 
ets, and Cortes's delusive arguments in his ears, and, 
when Francisco de Garay's mission arrived by a fortuitous 
coincidence, simultaneously with the long delayed royal 
commission which recognised Cortes as Captain-General 
of the New Spain, his men also enthusiastically deserted 
in a body to Cortes, leaving Garay to humble himself 
before the man he had come to supplant, and to remain as 
his guest until death suddenly brought his career to an 

Nothing more disastrous for Spain or for Mexico could 
be imagined than the success of any one of these ignorant 
and incompetent men. The mission of Cristobal de 
Tapia and its inglorious failure illustrate the deplorable 
conflict of authorities which rendered the Spanish colonial 
administration of that time almost farcical. The con- 
fusion and uncertainty prevailing in the direction of 
colonial affairs left many loopholes of escape for all who 
wished to disregard unpalatable orders. The President 
of the Royal Council for the Indies, who was in reality 
the highest authority, might order one thing, but the 
Jeronymite Fathers, who were supported by the audiencia 
in Hispaniola, and who exercised vague but supreme 
power in the Islands, would oppose or suspend the exe- 
cution of his commands. There was also the Viceroy 
with his immense pretensions to be considered, and the 
Governors of Cuba and Jamaica, who were jealous of any 
trespass on their prerogatives, while over all^there was the 
Sovereign, from whom cedulas or decrees could be ob- 
tained granting jurisdiction which contradicted the exer- 
cise of authority already established, or annulled all other 

The Conqueror 29 

orders. As Cristobal de Tapia brought no letters from 
the Emperor, but only from the President of the 
Council, the lieutenant at Vera Cruz, while receiving 
him with respect, and protesting every intention to ob- 
serve his commands, declared that his credentials must 
first be submitted to the Municipal Council. That rather 
vagrant body was composed chiefly of captains, who were 
either in Mexico with Cortes, or off exectiting his orders 
in various places, and it was not an easy thing to unite 
them promptly. Cortes claimed to hold his authority 
from that Council, which he had himself created, and which 
in its turn recognised no superior short of the Emperor. 
Treating with Tapia through Fray Pedro ]\Ielgarejo de 
Urea, and members of the Council, it was quickly dis- 
covered that he was accessible to golden arguments, so 
he was loaded with gifts, and, after selling his negro slaves, 
horses, arms, etc., at a good price, he consented to return 
to Hispaniola. Here he was sharply censured by the 
audiencia and the Jeronymites, who had originally for- 
bidden him to land in Mexico, or interfere in any way with 
the conquests of Cortes. 

The foundations of a liberal and independent colonial 
administration already existed in Mexico, on which a 
stable system of government might have been built up, 
but unfortunately these principles, which were better 
known to Spaniards in that century than to any other 
continental people, were in their decadence. Under 
Charles V., began the disintegration of the people's 
liberties, which affected likewise the government of all 
the dependencies, and the system of rule by Viceroys 
and a horde of rapacious bureaucrats was initiated, 
which lasted in Latin-America until the last Spanish 
colony disappeared with the proclamation of Cuba's 

Cortes was daring but never rash. His plans were 
carefully formed, and his decisions were the result of 

30 Letters of Cortes 

cautious calculations which seemed to take cognisance 
of every emergency, to forestall every risk. In the exe- 
cution of his designs, he was as relentless as he was daring. 
Both his resolution and his perseverance were implacable, 
and those who did not choose to bend to his will were 
made to break; but if his hand was iron, soft was the 
velvet of his glove. Sois mon frere ou je ie iue, de- 
scribes his dealings with all about him. Equanimity and 
resolution were the chief characteristics of his conduct. 
His self-possession was never disturbed by misfortune, 
and as he sustained success without undue elation, so did 
he support reverses with fortitude, recognising defeat 
as a momentary check, but never accepting it as final. 

Besides being compared with Julius Caesar as a general, 
he has been ranked with Augustus and Charles V. 
as a statesman, and he unquestionably possessed many 
of the qualities essential to greatness in common with 
them. He ruled his motley band with a happy mixture 
of genial comradeship and inflexible discipline, and hence 
succeeded, where an excess of either the one or the other 
would have brought failure. He knew whom and when 
to trust, giving his friendship he avoided favouritism, 
with the consequence that his men were united by 
the bond of a common trust in their commander. He 
shared their hardships, sympathised with their sufferings, 
and joined in their pleasures, but he hanged a soldier 
who robbed an Indian, he cut off the feet of another who 
plotted desertion, while.'in the supreme moment when the 
conspiracy to kill him w^as discovered in Texcoco, he 
hanged the leader before his own door, but wisely ignored 
the trembling accomplices, though he had the list of their 
names in his pocket at the time. 

From the moment Cortes learned from the Indian 
chief of Cempoal that the Aztec rule was heavy on the 
subject tribes, and that disloyalty seethed throughout 
the Empire only waiting the propitious moment to throw 

The Conqueror 31 

off the supremacy of fear, his plan to unite all the dis- 
contented elements in the land under his standard, and 
to overthrow Montezuma by the very instrument his own 
cruelties and extortions had created, took shape. His 
first move was to persuade the Cacique of Cempoal to 
refuse the tribute of twenty men for sacrifice, and to 
imprison the collectors sent by Montezuma; by this act 
of open rebellion the Totonac tribes exposed themselves 
to the summary vengeance of the Aztecs, and were left 
with the sole hope of alliance with the Spaniards to save 
themselves from the consequences of their insubordination. 
This much accomplished, the next step was to win the 
gratitude of the tax collectors, and put Montezuma under 
obligations. This was done by opposing the Cempoalans' 
wish to sacrifice the collectors forthwith, and by later 
arranging for the escape by night of two of them, and 
sending them to Montezuma with his expressions of re- 
gret at the indignities they had suffered, and his assurance 
to the Emperor that he would also effect the escape 
of the remaining three. These he held as hostages, for 
when the escape of the two became known the next day, 
Cortes feigned great wrath at the negligence of the guards 
and, in order to secure the remaining prisoners, he put 
them in irons and sent them on board one of his own 
caravels. The news of these events spread quickly, 
and the Totanacs, convinced that the hour of successful 
revolt against Aztec oppression was at hand, rose as one 
man against Montezuma, and committed their lives and 
fortunes to the Spaniards. This result was a diplomatic 
victory of no mean value. 

He next beat the Tlascalans, not into submission but 
into an alliance, and this pact he cemented by every art 
of which he was master. The astonishment, which many 
have lightly expressed, that a mighty state should be so 
easily invaded and overthrown by a handful of adventurers 
is considerably lessened when the political and racial 

32 Letters of Cortes 

conditions in the decaying Empire arc understood, and 
the part played by the Tlascalans in the conquest is rightly 
estimated. They were a warlike people who had preserved 
the independence of their mountain republic against the 
might of Montezuma, somewhat as the Montenegrins 
have ever defended themselves against the Ottoman 
power. They were from a military point of view the 
equals, if not the superiors, of the Aztecs in the field, 
fighting with the same weapons and employing like 
tactics ; hence one hundred thousand Tlascalans, captained 
by Cortes, who came as the fulfiller of prophecies, almost 
a supernatural being with demigods in his train, com- 
manding thunder and lightning, and mounted upon 
unknown and formidable beasts, were invincible. The 
Tlascalans had long bided the time for their vengeance, 
and in the alliance with Cortes they saw their opportunity. 
In two potential moments Tlascala held the balance of 
victory or defeat, and a hair would have tipped it either 
way. When the famished, blood-stained remnant of the 
Spaniards, flying from the horrors of the Noche Triste, 
fell exhausted at the gates of their capital, to annihilate 
them was within their choice, but these loyal, short- 
sighted Indians stood fast to their bond, took the wreck 
of the army in as brothers, nursed them, cured their 
wounds, and played the good Samaritan with suicidal 
success. Again, without the brigantines, the capture of 
Mexico was more than doubtful ; the brigantines meant 
famine for the invested city, and even with them it 
took seventy-five days to reduce it. Tlascala provided 
the material, built the brigantines, paid for them, and 
sent eight thousand men to carr}^ them across the moun- 
tain passes, escorted b}^ twenty thousand more to pro- 
tect the convoy, and finally built the canal from which 
they were launched on the lake of Texcoco. Throw 
the weight of Tlascala on the Aztec side, and the history 
of the conquest of Mexico would have to be re-written. 

The Conqueror 33 

But even these brave people were wanting in the true 
spirit of unity and discipHne essential to the success 
of large military operations, and their leaders, despite 
their unquestioned bravery, invited defeat by their foolish 
jealousies and petty quarrels over questions of personal 
vanity. The Indian tribes in Mexico would indeed seem 
to have been destitute of patriotic sentiment; tribal 
feeling undoubtedly existed, but was, unfortunately for 
them, a source rather of disunion than a bond of strength. 
In his description of the engagements between the 
armies under Xicotencatl and the forces of Cortes, Bemal 
Diaz ascribes the victory to three causes, saying that 
next to God's help, it was owing to the cavalry (as the 
elephants of Pyrrhus struck terror to the Romans, so 
did the Spaniards' horses spread panic amongst the 
Indians) ; secondly to the inexperience of the Tlascalans, 
which prevented their bringing up their troops without 
confusion, instead of which they massed them together, 
thus enabling the Spanish artillery to do fearful execution 
amongst them; and finally because the forces of Guaxo- 
cingo, commanded by the chief Chichimecatl, did not 
support the action of the commander-in-chief, owing 
to their leader's sulkiness over some observations of 
Xicotencatl on his conduct during the engagement of the 
previous day. This chieftain was plagued with a morbid 
touchiness which despoiled his bravery of its virtue, and 
Cortes later mentions with what difficulty he was induced 
to take the rear-guard rather than the lead, during the 
famous convoy of the brigantines from Tlascala over the 
mountain passes to the lake of Texcoco, and how he 
was only finally persuaded by being assured that the 
rear-guard was the post of greatest honour and danger; 
even then he made the condition that no Spaniards should 
share the responsibility with him. Similar rivalries pre- 
vailed likewise in the Senate, and during the discussion on 
the reception to be given the Spaniards, the venerable 

VOL. I.— 3 

34 Letters of Cortes 

princes actually came to blows. The story of the con- 
quest is, on the Indian side, a humiliating recital of 
treachery, mutual betrayals, and tribe plotting against 
tribe, each foolishly thinking to use the Spaniards as an 
instrument of vengeance against their neighbours, whereas 
the fact was that the astute Cortes saw with eminent 
satisfaction these enervating dissensions, all of which 
he deftly turned to his own profit. 

A perpetual coming and going of Aztec ambassadors ac- 
companied the march from Vera Cruz. These unfortunate 
messengers, burdened wnth conflicting and impossible 
instructions, must have felt themselves sent upon a fool's 
errand, pulled hither and thither according as Monte- 
zuma's hopes or fears happened to be in the ascendant. 
The task of turning back the obnoxious strangers, but 
without offending them, lest, being gods, they might wreak 
vengeance on the Empire, w^as laid upon them. They 
carefully watched and quickly reported every step in ad- 
vance made by the Spaniards, but their despatches were 
disheartening reading for their imperial master, being 
but chronicles of Spanish victories, and the defection 
of provinces. Only half convinced, yet not daring to 
disclose his doubts, of the semi-divine character of the 
invaders, Montezuma ordered every attention to be 
la\4shed upon them, while at the same time he consulted 
astrologers and magicians to discover some means to bane 
the pests, or inspired plans for their destruction, as at 
Cholula, where, upon the discovery of the plot, he disa- 
vowed responsibility, and left the Cholulans to suffer 
the consequences. 

The absence or control of impulse in Cortes saved him 
from many a disaster which daring alone would have 
brought upon a leader of equal boldness but less wisdom, 
placed as he was. Perhaps the most supremely audacious 
act which history records is the seizure of Montezuma in 
the midst of his own court, and his conveyance to the 

The Conqueror 35 

Spanish quarters; an undertaking so stupefying in its 
conception and so incredible in its execution that only 
the multitude and unanimity of testimony serve to 
remove it from the sphere of fable into that of history. 
This, however, was not an act of mere daring, but as he 
explains to the Emperor in his second letter, a measure of 
carefully pondered policy. We are now accustomed to 
see "political agents," or financial and military "ad- 
visers," near the persons of nominal rulers, to whom the 
controlling foreign power concedes sufficient semblance 
of independence to mask their essential servitude, but 
the system of ruling a nation through the person of its 
enslaved sovereign originated with the seizure of Monte- 
zuma by Cortes. He was a man of unfeigned piety, of 
the stuff of which martyrs are made, nor did his conviction 
that he was leading a holy crusade to win lost souls to 
salvation ever waver. He says in his Ordenanzas at 
Tlascala, that, were the war carried on for any other 
motive than to overthrow idolatry and to secure the 
salvation of so many souls by converting the Indians to 
the holy faith, it would be unjust and obnoxious, nor 
would the Emperor be justified in rewarding those who 
took part in it. 

Among other ordinances governing the moral and 
religious welfare of the people in Mexico after the con- 
quest, was one which prescribed attendance at the in- 
structions in Christian doctrine, given on Sundays and 
feast days under pain of stripes. The Jesuit historian 
Cavo {Los Tres Siglos de Mexico, tom. i., p. 151) says 
that on one occasion when Cortes had himself been absent, 
he was reprimanded from the pulpit on the following 
Sunday, and, to the stupefaction of the Indians, sub- 
mitted to the prescribed flogging in public. Cortes re- 
sembled the publican who struck his breast and invoked 
mercy for his sins, rather than the Pharisee who found 
his chief cause for thankfulness in the contemplation 

36 Letters of Cortes 

his own superior virtues. Prescott was uncertain whether 
this submission to a pubhc whipping should be at- 
tributed to " bigotry " or to " pohcy," It seems to have 
been first of all an act of simple consistency by which 
the commander sanctioned the law he had himself es- 
tablished. Precept is ever plentiful but example is the 
better teacher, and a more striking and unforgctable 
example of the equality of all under the law, it would 
indeed be difificult to find in history. The policy of 
demonstrating that no one's faults were exempt from 
the punishment provided by the law was unquestionably 
present, and deserving only of applause, but for bigotry 
there seems to be no place whatever, unless indeed the 
provision of compulsory instruction for both the natives 
and the Spaniards in Christian doctrine be so described. 

His religious zeal was sometimes intemperate, nor 
was it always guided by prudence, but he usually showed 
wisdom in submitting to the restraining influence of some 
handy friar whose saner and more persuasive methods 
promised surer results than his own strenuous system of 
conversion would have secured. Nowhere is the vindica- 
tion of the religious orders in dealing with native races 
more convincingly established than in the histor}' of 
their early relations w4th the Mexicans. The restraints 
the commander placed on the license of his soldiers might 
well have been prompted by his policy of winning the 
friendly confidence of the Indians, but his measures for 
repressing profanity of every sort, gambling and other 
camp vices, and his insistence upon daily mass and 
prayer before and thanksgivings after battle, are traceable 
to no such motive, and it is more than once recorded that 
the Indians were profoundly impressed by the decorous 
solemnity of the religious ceremonies and the devotion 
shown by the Spaniards. 

Shortcomings in the practice of the moral precepts of 
religion, either in that century or in this, are not con- 

The Conqueror 37 

fined to men who find themselves cut adrift from the 
usual restraints of civilised society, isolated and para- 
mount amidst barbarians, whose inferior moral standard 
provides constant and easy temptations to lapse, and, 
while it were as difficult as it is unnecessary to attempt 
a defence of the excesses which the Spaniards undoubtedly 
committed in Mexico, it is equally impossible to condemn 
them as exceptional. Commenting upon the strange 
contradiction between professed piety, and practised 
vice and cruelty, Prescott writes : ' ' When we see the 
hand, red with the blood of the wretched native, raised 
to invoke the blessing of heaven, we experience something 
like a sensation of disgust, and a doubt of its sincerity." 
The distinguished historian here voices a facile assumption 
all too common amongst many who, lacking his luminous 
comprehension of the spirit of that age, commit the 
injustice of measuring the acts of its men by the more 
humane standards of our own times. He himself acquits 
Cortes of the imputation of insincerity, and declares that 
no one who reads his correspondence, or studies the events 
of his career, can doubt that he would have been the 
first to lay down his life for the Faith. Too many barriers, 
however, interposed between the Anglo-Saxon protestant 
historian of the nineteenth century and the Spanish Catho- 
licism of the sixteenth to allow even one of his superior his- 
torical acumen to accurately appreciate the operation of 
religious influences on the character of such a man as 
Fernando Cortes, whose military conquest was prompted 
in a large measure by genuinely leligious motives, but 
whose fervent practice of the Church's teachings unfortun- 
ately alternated with lapses into grievous sensuality. 

Whatever else may be doubted, the religious sincerity , 
and martial courage of Fernando Cortes are above im- ^ 
peachment. He was a stranger to hypocrisy which is a 
smug vice of cowards and if his reasons for acts of policy, 
which cost many lives, may be deplored by the humane, 

38 Letters of Cortes 

their honesty may be reasonably impugned by none. Had 
the influence of his faith on his morals been proportionate 
to its strength, he would have merited canonisation. 

Sixteenth century Spain produced a race of Christian 
warriors whose piety, born of an intense realisation of, 
and love for a militant Christ, was of a martial complexion, 
beholding in the symbol of salvation — the Cross — the 
standard of Christendom, around which the faithful must 
rally, and for whose protection and exaltation swords 
must be drawn and blood spilled if need be. They were 
the children of the generation which had expelled the 
last Moor from Spain, and had brought centuries of re- 
Hgious and patriotic warfare to a triumphant close, in 
which their country was finally united under the crown 
of Castile. From such forebears the generation of Cortes 
received their heritage of Christian chivalry. The dis- 
covery of a new world, peopled by barbarians, opened a 
new field to Spanish missionary zeal, in which the kingdom 
of God upon earth was to be extended, and countless 
souls rescued from the obscene idolatries and debasing 
cannibalism which enslaved them. This was the "white 
man's burden "which that century laid on the Spaniard's 
shoulders. To the scoffing philosopher of the eighteenth 
century, these crusading buccaneers in whose characters 
the mystic and the sensualist fought for the mastery 
seemed but knaves clumsily masquerading as fools. The 
fierce piety, which furnished entertainment to the age 
of Voltaire, somewhat puzzles our own. Expeditions 
now set forth into dark continents unburdened with 
professions of concern for the spiritual or moral welfare 
of the natives. Indeed, nothing is deemed more foolish 
than attempts to interfere with the religious beliefs and 
practices of barbarians, and the commander in our times, 
who would overturn an idol merely to set up a wooden 
cross, thereby exposing his followers to the risk of being 
massacred, would be court-martialled and degraded, if 

The Conqueror 39 

indeed he ever ventured to return to civilisation. If 
such work is to be done at all, there are richly endowed 
missionary societies to attend to it. But even the 
equipment of the missionaries who undertake to carry 
evangelical doctrine amongst savage peoples presents 
some striking contrasts to the barefooted Spanish friars 
who first preached Christianity to the Mexicans. If the 
heathen are no longer brought by compulsion into the 
light, we make them pay a heavy indemnity for their 
privilege of sitting in darkness, and, whenever their 
opposition to the dissemination of Christian teaching 
amongst them emerges from quiesence into activity, a 
warship is ready to bombard their coasts while troops 
are at hand to annex a province. 

In the eighth of Lord Lyttleton's Dialogues of the Dead 
the shades of Fernando Cortes and William Penn are 
made to discourse with one another upon the merits of 
their respective undertakings in North America, each ghost 
defending its own system. Friend Penn in one passage 
says to Cortes: 

I know very well that thou wast as fierce as a lion and as 
subtle as a serpent. The Devil, perhaps, may place thee as 
high in his black list of heroes as Alexander or Caesar. It is not 
my business to interfere with him in settling thy rank. But 
hark thee, Friend Cortes, — What right hadst thou or had the 
King of Spain himself to the Mexican Empire? Answer me 
that, if thou canst. 

Cortes. The Pope gave it to my Master. 

Penn. The Devil offered to give our Lord all the king- 
doms of the earth, and I suppose the Pope as His Vicar gave 
thy Master this; in return for which he fell down and wor- 
shipped him like an idolater as he was, etc. 

The ghost of Penn defends his possession of Pennsyl- 
vania, alleging the honest right of fair purchase; to which 
Cortes replies : 

40 Letters of Cortes 

I am afraid there was a little fraiid in the purchase — thy 
followers, William Perm, are said to think cheating in a quiet, 
sober way no mortal sin. 

The verbal skirmish continues in this vein, and con- 
cludes thus: 

Penn. Ask thy heart whether ambition was not thy 
real motive, and zeal the pretence? 

Cortes. Ask thine whether thy zeal had no worldly 
views, and whether thou didst believe all the nonsense of the 
sect at the head of which thou wast pleased to become a 
legislator. Adieu, self-examination requires retirement. 

The author does not allow for any clearing of the human 
perceptions in the spirit world, and it is probable that 
had Fernando Cortes and William Penn been contempo- 
raries and able to discuss their respective systems of deal- 
ing with Indians, and founding settlements, they would 
ha\ e found more points of agreement than their loqua- 
cious ghosts were able to discover. The flaccid defence 
advanced by Cortes's shade betrays some deteriora- 
tion of mental power, for in his lifetime the conqueror was 
hardly less formidable in polemics than he was on the 
battle-field, but, in the feeble discourse put in the mouth 
of this pale spirit, we find nothing of the fierceness of 
the Hon or the subtlety of the serpent which Friend Penn 
attributed to Cortes in the flesh. 

Penn's ghost professes to find Cortes's religious motives 
suspect, yet there are not more proofs of his presence in 
Mexico than there are of his absolute belief in himself as a 
divinely chosen instrument for the conversion of souls. 
Purging the human soul from the taint of idolatry or 
heresy by means of physical torments is a familiar blot 
on the pages of the history of religions. 

More than a century after the conquest of Mexico the 
New England Puritans were torturing and killing by 
process of law, — not savage enemies who threatened 

The Conqueror 41 

their security, but one another, and all within their 
power, who dissented from their own gloomy and pecul- 
iar theological delusions. They may have believed in 
the mercy of God, but they grimly preferred to see 
themselves as ministers of His wrath. 

Nothing, more than the exercise of great power by a 
conscientious man, imbued with faith in himself as a 
chosen instrument for executing divine justice on his 
fellow men, is surer to produce a very Frankenstein of 
fanaticism, and all peoples and creeds have furnished 
the spectacle of men of professing godliness, who slew 
to save, and whose claim to a great mission was written 
in the blood of those who were described as God's enemies. 
There is even Scripture warranty for it. If invasion of an 
unoffending nation for the purpose of conquest be justi- 
fiable, either by moral or utilitarian arguments, then 
the sufferings which inevitable resistance must bring are 
covered by the same justifications. 

The accusation of wanton cruelty, too lightly brought 
against Cortes has been diligently propagated by the 
interested, and complacently accepted by the indiscrim- 
inating, until dissent from it awakens incredulous sur- 
prise. Nevertheless, all that can be learned of his 
character proves that Cortes was not by nature cruel, nor 
did he take wanton pleasure in the sufferings of others. 
Conciliation and coercion were both amongst his weapons, 
his natural preference being for the former, as is seen by 
his never once failing in his dealings with the Indians 
to exhaust peaceful methods before resorting to force. 
The secret of carrying on a war of conquest mercifully 
has not yet been discovered, and recent reports from 
Africa and the Philippines do not show much advance 
on the policy of the Spaniards in Mexico four hundred 
years ago, though it cannot be pretended that our 
modern expeditions are attended by the perils, known, — 
and most of all the unknown, — which awaited the 

42 TxttcTS of Cortes 

ignorant adventurers in the New World at every 

There were three ends which according to Cortes's 
ethics justified any measures for their accomplishment, 
ist, the spread of the faith, 2nd, the subjugation of the 
Indians to Spanish rule, and 3rd, the possession of their 
treasures; and as his narrative of the conquest unfolds 
itself, it will be seen that his resolution stopped at nothing 
for the achievement of these ends. But there is no 
instance of tortures and suflering being treated by him 
as a sport. Whether he might not have accomplished 
all he did with less bloodshed, is a purely speculative 
question. Fr. Acosta {Storia de las Indias, lib. vii., cap. 
XXV.) states that so entirely were the Mexicans imbued 
with the belief that the Spaniards came in fulfilment of the 
prophecy of their most beneficent deity, Quetzalcoatl, that 
Montezuma would have abdicated, and the whole empire 
have passed into their hands without a struggle, had 
Cortes but comprehended the force of the prevailing 
superstition, and met the popular expectation by rising 
consistently to his role of demigod. There are facts 
which tend to lend weight to this argument, and had Cortes 
but realised the possibilities, he might have been equal to 
the part, though his followers fell so lamentably short, 
that it is doubtful if the illusion could have been long 
sustained. As it was, the awful tragedy of the Sorrowfid 
Night, and the downfall, amidst bloodshed and suffering 
unspeakable of Mexico, was precipitated by the brutal 
folly of Alvarado, — not of Cortes. 

In his relations with women, Cortes shows his primi- 
tive polygamous temperament. Even at the age of 
sixteen in his native Medellin, we find him falling from 
a wall and all but losing his life in an amorous adventure 
with an anonymous fair one, and throughout his life 
these intrigues succeeded one another unbrokenly; but 
his loves were so entirely things "of his life apart," that 

The Conqueror 43 

their influence upon his motives or his actions is never 
discernible. In Cuba his role of Don Juan brought him 
into a conflict with the Governor, which was the origin 
of their Hfe-long duel for supremacy in the colonies. But 
Catalina Xuarez, about whom the trouble first began, is 
quickly lost sight of; she passes like a pale shade across 
that epoch of her husband's life, and is never heard of 
again, until her uninvited presence in Mexico, followed 
quickly by her unlamented death, is briefly mentioned. 
The most important woman in his life was his Indian 
interpreter, Marina, and some writers have sought to 
weave a romance into the story of their relations, for which 
there seems, upon examination, to be little enough sub- 
stantial material. During the period when she was in- 
dispensable to the business in hand, she was never 
separated from Cortes, but we know that he was not 
faithful to her even then, while, as soon as she ceased 
to be necessary, she was got rid of as easily as she had 
been acquired. 

Montezuma gave him his daughter, who first received 
Christian baptism to render her worthy of the commander's 
companionship, and was known as Dofia Ana. She 
lived openly with Cortes in his quarters, and had with 
her, her two sisters, Inez and Elvira, and a sister of the 
King of Texcoco who was called Dona Francisca. Dofia 
Ana was killed during the retreat on the Sorrowful Night, 
and was pregnant at the time. A third daughter of the 
Emperor, Dofia Isabel, married Alonso de Grado, who 
shortly afterwards died, when she also passed into the 
household of the conqueror, to whom she bore a daughter. 
(Bernal Diaz, cap. cvii. ; Bernaldino Vasquez de Tapia, 
tom. ii., pp. 244, 305-306; Gonzalo Mejia, tom. ii., pp. 
240-241) . According to Juan Tirado two of Montezuma's 
daughters bore sons to Cortes, and one bore a daughter. 
(Orozco y Berra, Conquista de Mexico, \ih. ii.,cap. vi., note.) 

In his last will, Cortes mentions another natural 

44 Letters of Cortes 

daughter, whose mother was Leonor Pizarro, who after- 
wards married Juan de Salcedo. 

It is thus positively known that besides Marina, there 
were four other ladies who shared in his affections during 
this period of the conquest, and meanwhile his first wife 
Catalina Xuarez la Marcaida was alive in Cuba. These 
undisguised philanderings must have somewhat blighted 
Marina's romance. 

His marriage with Dofia Juana de Zufiiga took place 
when he was at the zenith of his fame. The advantages 
such an alliance with a noble and powerful family of 
Castile seemed to promise, though many, were perhaps 
not as tangible as the ambitious conqueror had hoped. 
The marriage was negotiated before he and the lady had 
met, but it does not appear to have been less happy for 
this conformity to a custom which at that time was uni- 
versal in noble families. Dofla Juana could have seen 
but little of her restless husband, who was perpetually 
engaged elsewhere, but she was a good wife, and loved 
him, just as did Catalina Xuarez and all his mistresses 
while his uxorious instincts made it easy for him to be 
equally happy with all of them. He was affectionate and 
tender, devoted to all of his children, distinguishing but 
little between his legitimate and his natural offspring in 
a truly patiarchal fashion. For the latter he secured 
Bulls of legitimacy from the Pope, and provided generously 
in his will. Not less strong was his filial piety, and among 
the first treasure sent to Spain, there went gifts to his 
father and mother in Medellin, and, after his father's 
death, he brought his mother to Mexico, where she died, 
and was buried in the vault at Texcoco, w^here his own 
body was afterwards laid. 

The Fifth Letter reports the events of his long journey 
of exploration through Yucatan. In setting forth on 
this expedition which was to cover a distance of five 
hundred leagues through savage wilds, Cortes affected 

The Conqueror 45 

the pomp of an Oriental satrap, taking with him besides 
the necessary soldiers, guides, Indian allies, and camp 
followers, a complete household of stewards, valets, 
pages, grooms, and other attendants, all under the com- 
mand of a major-domo of the household. Gold and 
silver plate for his table was provided, also musicians, 
jugglers, and acrobats to amuse the company. Spanish 
muleteers and equerries were taken to have charge of 
the carriages and horses, and, in addition to the usual 
provender, to ensure a supply of meat, an immense drove 
of pigs was driven along, which could not have accelerated 
the march. He had a map painted on cloth by native 
artists, which showed after their fashion the rivers and 
mountain chains to be crossed. This and his compass 
were all Cortes could rely upon to guide him during his 
perilous undertaking. Dona Marina went as chief 
interpreter, but Geronimo de Aguilar did not accompany 
this expedition, though he was not dead, as Bernal Diaz 
states, for in 1525 he applied for a piece of land on which 
to build a house in the street now called Balvanera 
(Alaman, Dissertazioni IV.). The record of these events, 
however noteworthy, may seem tame reading after the 
exciting chronicle of the siege and fall of Mexico — a war 
drama of the most intense kind, but, in forming a correct 
estimate of Cortes' s character we must not restrict our- 
selves to a study of the qualities displayed in the course 
of the conquest, and which prove him a most resourceful 
military genius. At five and thirty years of age he had 
successfully completed as daring and momentous an 
undertaking as history records, and it is as conqueror 
of Mexico that he takes his place among the world's 
great heroes. M. Desire Charnay, in the preface to his 
French translation of the Five Letters, says : "La conquete 

de Cortes coMa au Mexique plus de dix millions 

d'etres humains emportes par la guerre, les maladies et 
les mauvais tr ailments: de sorte que cef homme de genie 

46 Letters of Cortes 

petit cntrcr sans contcste dans la redoutable phalange des 
fi^anx dc I' humanity." 

His subsequent undertakings called for the exercise 
of qualities hardly less remarkable, though of a different 
order, and it was absence of productive success which 
has caused them to be overlooked in a world where 
results count for more than effort. 

It was never the policy of the Spanish crown to entrust 
the government of dependencies to their discoverers 
or conquerors, and when powerful friends at Court sought 
in 1529 to prevail upon Charles the Fifth to grant Cortes 
supreme power under the crown in Mexico, His Majesty 
was not to be persuaded; and in refusing he pointed out 
that his royal precedessors had never done this, even 
in the case of Columbus, or of Gonsalvo de Cordoba, the 
conqueror of Naples. Had it been possible, however, 
or the Emperor to free himself from the suspicions which 
the persistent intrigues of Cortes's enemies fomented, 
especially from the jealous fear of a possible aspiration to 
independent sovereignty, it cannot be doubted that the 
wisest thing, both for Mexico and for the royal interests, 
would have been the installation of Cortes in as inde- 
pendent a vice-royalty as was compatible with the main- 
tenance of the royal supremacy. While Cortes, in 
common with all his kind, loved gold, he was not a mere 
\ailgar plunderer, seeking to hastily enrich himself, at 
no matter what cost to the country, in order to retire 
to a life of luxury in Spain. Moreover even granting 
that he had started with no larger purpose, it is plain 
that he was himself at the outset unconscious, both of 
his own powers and of the strange drama about to unfold, 
in w^hich destiny reserved him the first part. By the 
time the conquest was completed, his knowledge of the 
possibilities of Mexico had expanded, so that his views 
on all questions connected with the occupation, the 
government and the future welfare of the country, hap 

The Conqueror 47 

developed from the schemes of a mere adventurer into the 
policy of a statesman. The constantly revived accusation 
of aspiring to independent sovereignty was a myth, for 
the Emperor had no more faithful subject than Cortes, in 
whom the dual mainsprings of action were religion and 

His better judgment condemned the system of enco- 
miendas, and only admitted slavery as a form of punish- 
ment for the crime of rebellion, even then to be mitigated 
by every possible safeguard. Far from driving the 
natives from their homes, or wishing to deport them to 
the islands, he used every inducement to encourage them to 
remain in their towns, to rebuild their cities, and resume 
their industries, realising full well that the true strength 
of government, as well as the surest source of revenue, 
lay in a pacific and busy population. To this end he 
adopted the system of restoring or maintaining the native 
chiefs in their jurisdiction and dignity, imposing upon 
them the obligation of ruling their tribes, — and persuading 
those who had been frightened away to the mountains 
to return to their villages. The exceptions to this policy 
were in the cases of certain rebellious princes, whom he 
considered powerful enough to be dangerous. 

That Cortes understood the Indians and had a kindly 
feeling for them, is proven many times over, while the 
proofs of their affection for him are even more numerous. 
Malintzin was a name to conjure with amongst them, 
and while familiar relations with most of the other Span- 
iards speedily bred contempt, their attachment to Cortes 
increased as time went on. The iron policy which used 
massacres, torture, and slavery for its instruments of 
conquest, did not revolt the Indians, since it presented 
no contrast to the usage common among themselves in 
time of war; vcb victis comprised the ethics of native 
kings, who in addition to wars for aggrandisement of 
territory and increase of glory also waged them solely 

48 Letters of Cortes 

to obtain victims for the sacrificial altars of their gods. 
This ghastly levy ceased with the introduction of 
Malintzin's religion, and he brought no hitherto un- 
familiar horror as a substitute for it. 

Some writers have even essayed to parallel the cruelties 
incident to the procedure of the Inquisition, and the 
executions after sentence by that tribunal, with the human 
sacrifices of the Aztecs. Without here embarking upon 
an investigation of the methods of the Inquisition, it 
may, in strict justice, be pointed out that, as far as Mexico 
was concerned, the researches of the learned archaeologist, 
Garcia Icazbalceta, have shown that during the two hun- 
dred and seventy years of its existence in that country, 
the number of persons delivered to the secular arm for 
execution was forty-seven (Bihliografia Mexicana del 
Siglo, XVI., page 382). Moreover the Indians were 
exempt from molestation for they were expressly defined 
as being outside the jurisdiction of the Holy Office. 

Except the independent Tlascalans, all the other 
peoples of Anahuac were held in stem subjection by the 
Aztec emperor; heavy taxes were collected from them, 
human life was without value, torture was in common 
use; their sons were seized for sacrifice, their daughters 
replenished the harems of the confederated kings and great 
nobles, so that Cortes was welcomed as the Hberator of 
subject peoples, the redresser of wrongs. He had pro- 
cured them the sweets of a long nourished, but despaired 
of, vengeance, and, though it was but the exchange of 
one master for another, they tasted the satisfaction of 
ha\'ing squared some old scores with their oppressors. 
The conquest completed, Cortes bent all his efforts to 
creating systems of government under which the different 
peoples might live and prosper in common security, and, 
with the disappearance of the need for them, the harsher 
methods also vanished. Few of his cherished intentions 
were realised, however, and the power which would have 

The Conqueror 49 

enabled him to bring his wiser plans to fruition was 
denied hiin. 

The fruits of conquest are bitterness of spirit and 
disappointment, though Cortes fared better than his 
great contemporaries Columbus, Balboa, and Pizarro, 
who after discovering continents and oceans and sub- 
duing empires were requited with chains, the scaffold, 
and the traitor's dagger. True, he saw himself defrauded 
of his deserts, while royal promises were found to be 
elastic; and in his last years he was even treated as an 
importunate suppliant, being excluded from the presence 
of the sovereign to whose crown he had given an empire. 

Lesser men would have been content with the world- 
wide fame, the great title, and vast estates to which 
from modest beginnings Cortes had 'risen in a few brief 
years, but a lesser man would never have accomplished 
such vast undertakings, and it was his curse that his 
ambitions kept pace with his achievements. From the 
fall of Mexico until his death, his life was a series of 
disappointments, unfulfilled ambitions, and petty miseries, 
due to the malice of rivals, and the faithlessness of 
friends, relieved only by some brief periods of splendid 
triumph, illumined by royal favour. Even financial 
embarrassments were not spared him. A curse was 
on the Aztec gold, and it was not enough that little 
treasure was found in the city, but Cortes must be ac- 
cused, in the unreasoning fury of the general disappoint- 
ment, of being in collusion with Quauhtemotzin to 
conceal the hoard and share it together later on. He 
yielded to this murmuring and consented to the torture 
of the captive Emperor, for whose safety he had pledged 
his word, thus staining his name with an indelible blot of 
shame. His journeys to Yucatan and Honduras, so fully 
related in the Fifth Letter, would have won renown for 
another but they added nothing to his reputation. The 
several expeditions to the South Sea, and his discovery 

VOL. I. 4 

^o Letters of Cortes 

of California, all cost him immense sums, plunged him 
into debt, and merely served to pave the way for later 
undertakings, so that he might with reason have ex- 
claimed with Columbus, "I have opened the door for 
others to enter." During this time he was surrounded by 
enemies hidden and declared, who sent complaints of him 
to Spain by every ship ; he was accused of murdering his 
wife Catalina Xuarez who had died within a few months 
after her arrival in Mexico where, though possibly unwel- 
come, she was received with due honours; he was accused 
of defrauding the royal treasury, as well as his companions 
in arms, and of taking an undue share of the spoils for him- 
self ; and finally he was accused of planning to throw off his 
allegiance to Spain, and set up an independent government 
with himself as king. These ceaseless intrigues against 
him finally decided the Emperor to send a high commis- 
sioner (juez de residencia) to investigate, not only all 
charges against the Captain-General, but also to report 
upon the general condition of affairs in New Spain. This 
was the means usuall}^ employed in such cases and did 
not necessarily constitute any indignity to Cortes, to 
whom the Emperor took occasion to write, notifying 
him of his decision, and assuring him that it was 
in no sense prompted by suspicions of his loyalty or 
honesty, but rather to furnish him with the opportunity 
of silencing his calumniators once for all by proving his 
innocence. Don Luis Ponce de Leon, a young man of 
high character and unusual attainments, was charged 
with this delicate mission, and his appointment was 
universally applauded as an admirable one. 

He was received upon his anival in Mexico by Cortes 
and all the authorities with every distinction due to him, 
but his untimely death of a fever within a few weeks after 
his arrival defeated the good results expected from his 
labours, and also furnished Cortes's enemies with another 
accusation — that of poisoning the royal commissioner. 

The Conqueror 51 

His powers devolved upon Marcos de Aguilar, who was 
not only too old for such an arduous post, but was ill of 
a disease which, it was said, obliged him to take nourish- 
ment by suckling, for which purpose wet nurses and 
she-goats were daily furnished him. The speedy death of 
this harmless old man started another story of poisoning, 
and was followed by the supreme disaster of Estrada's 
succession to the ill-starred commissionership, under 
whom the baiting of Cortes went on apace, while the en- 
tire population, Spanish as well as native, groaned under 
oppressions and vexations innumerable. The slave-trade 
was carried on shamelessly with nameless cruelties, 
chiefly by the brutal Nufiez de Guzman, a partisan of 
Diego Velasquez, who had been placed by the latter's 
influence as Governor of Panuco, for the express purpose 
of tormenting Cortes, and fomenting cabals against his 
authority. This petty tyrant committed barbarities 
never before heard of in Mexico. 

Wearied out with persecutions and insults, and hopeless 
of obtaining justice from such officials as Estrada and his 
subordinates, Cortes decided to go to Spain and lay his 
own case before the Emperor. His decision created some 
consternation amongst his opponents, and Estrada realised 
that it was a grave blunder to drive the Captain-General 
to make a personal appeal to the Emperor. If opposition 
or concessions could have stopped him, Cortes would 
have relinquished his plan, for overtures were made 
through the bishop of Tlascala, and promises of satisfac- 
tion were not spared; but his preparations were well 
under way, and, though perhaps somewhat mollified by 
the changed tone of Estrada, he remained firm in his 
purpose. Sailing with two ships from Vera Cruz (where 
he learned the news of his father's death), he landed after 
an unusually brief and prosperous voyage at the historic 
port of Palos in May, 1528. 



CORTES had arranged that his arrival at the Spanish 
Court should be of the nature of a veritable 
pageant. Different estimates of the treasure he 
took with him are given by different authorities, but 
these are mere matters of figures; the amount was 
fabulous, and, in addition to this, he carried a perfect 
museum of Mexican objects, such as the unique feather- 
work in which the Indians excelled, arms, embroideries, 
implements of obsidian, rare plants; indigenous products 
such as chocolate, tobacco, vanilla, and liquid amber; 
gorgeous pan-ots, herons, jaguars, and other beautiful 
birds and animals unknown in Spain were carried 
or led by Indians, in the dress of their tribes. That 
nothing might be wanting, he took with him many 
skilful jugglers, acrobats, dwarfs, albinos, and human 
monstrosities, which were much the fashion at that time, 
and these curiosities made such a sensation upon his 
arrival, that Charles the Fifth could think of no fitter 
destination for them than to send them on to His Holiness 
Clement the Seventh, before w^hom they performed 
and showed themselves to the delight and wonder of the 
pontifical Court. In the personal suite of the Conqueror, 
besides the numerous officials of his household, there 
went about forty Indian princes in their most gorgeous 
robes and jewels, amongst whom were the sons of 
Montezuma and of the Tlascalan chief, Maxixcatzin. 

The arrival of this magnificent cortege at Palos was 


Marques del Valle 53 

unannounced, and hence no fitting reception had been 
prepared there, but accident supplied a more remarkable 
grouping of interesting men of the century than design 
could have provided. Within the modest walls of Santa 
Maria la Rabida, where Columbus had found hospitality, 
there met with Cortes, who was accompanied by Gonzalo 
de Sandoval and Andres de Tapia, Francisco Pizarro, 
whose brilliant career in South America, rivalling that 
of Cortes in the North, was just dawning; and by a fateful 
coincidence, there was also in the suite of Cortes, the 
Spanish soldier Juan de Rada, by whose hand Pizarro 
was destined to perish in Peru. The date of his arrival 
at Palos is given by Bernal Diaz as December 1527, but 
Herrera's authority for the later date has been followed 
by Prescott, Alaman, and other historians. 

The triumphal home-coming was marred at the very 
outset by the death of Gonzalo de Sandoval at Palos, a 
few days after their landing. For none of his captains 
did "Cortes cherish the affection he felt for this gallant 
young soldier, who was his fellow-townsman and loyal 
friend. Sandoval was buried at La Rabida, and Cortes 
first went on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Guadeloupe, 
where he spent some days in mourning his loss, and having 
masses celebrated for the departed soul. This pious 
duty accomplished he set out for Toledo, where the Court 
then was, and as the news of his arrival had spread, and 
had also been announced by his own letter to the Emperor, 
he was ever3rwhere accorded a veritable triumph by the 
people, who flocked from all sides to see the hero of the 
great conquest, and to gaze upon the marvellous trophies 
which he brought ; so that since the first return of Columbus 
no such demonstrations had been seen in Spain. 

A brilliant group of nobles comprising the Duke of 
Bejar, the Counts of Aguilar and Medellin, the Grand 
Prior of St. John, and many of the first citizens of Toledo, 
rode out from the city to meet the conqueror on the 

54 Letters of Cortes 

plain, and the next day the Emperor received him with 
every mark of favour, raising him up when he would 
have knelt in the royal presence, and seating him by his 
side. The moment was an auspicious one, for influences 
had been at work in his favour. Since the appointment 
of the new commission of residencia, presided over by the 
infamous Nunez de Guzman, which had already left Spain, 
the Emperor's information as to the real state of things in 
Mexico and the respective merits of the contending parties, 
had been much extended and perfected. He consulted 
Cortes during his stay at Court upon everything pertaining 
to the new realm ; its resources, the natives, their customs, 
the Spanish colonists, and especially concerning the best 
means for establishing a stable government, and develop- 
ing industries and agriculture. 

Besides full power to continue his explorations, and 
the confirmation of his rank of Captain- General, the title 
of Marques del Valle de Oaxaca was conferred upon Cortes 
and his descendants, by patents dated July 6, 1529, to 
which was joined avast grant of lands, comprising twenty- 
eight towns and \allages; one tw^elfth of all his future 
discoveries was to be his owti. He received the knight- 
hood and habit of Santiago, and when he was confined to 
his lodgings by illness, the Emperor visited him in person, 
this latter being such a singular honour, that, as Prescott 
caustically observes, the Spanish writers of the time 
seemed to regard it as ample recompense for all he had 
done and suffered. It does not seem certain that he 
accepted the knighthood of Santiago, though Hen-era 
says that he had already possessed it since 1525. His 
reason for his alleged refusal was that no commenda vras 
attached to the dignity, and Alaman {Dissertazione V.) says 
that while his name is on the rolls of the order, the 
insignia do not appear either in his arms or his portraits, 
nor is any mention found of his possession of this grade 
in the list of his honours. 

Marques del Valle 55 

It is good to note that Cortes did not forget his friends 
while he was at court, but profited by the Emperor's 
hour of graciousness to obtain countless favours for them, 
especially for the Indians. The Tlascalans, in recognition 
of their loyalty, were exempted for ever from taxes and 
tribute; the Cempoalans were granted a Hke exemption 
for a period of two years ; a college for the sons of Mexi- 
can nobles, and another for girls, were endowed. Money 
was awarded to the Franciscan order for building churches 
and schools; tithes were established to maintain the 
Bishop Zumarraga; various privileges were secured for 
the original "conquerors" who had settled in the coun- 
try. Also generous doweries were appointed to the four 
daughters of Montezuma, who were being educated in a 
convent in Texcoco, as well as to the daughters of Mex- 
ican nobles who married Spaniards. 

During his stay in Spain, Cortes married his second 
wife Dona Juana de Zufiiga, a daughter of the Count of 
Aguilar, and niece of the Duke of Bejar. His gifts to his 
bride were of such magnificence as to arouse even the 
Queen's envy, especially the five large stones described 
as emeralds, which excelled any jewels ever seen, and 
were worth a nation's ransom. There were no emeralds 
in Mexico, and these stones were probably a kind of jade 
or serpentine of great brilliancy and value, which were 
easily confounded with emeralds. One of these stones 
was cut as a bell, whose tongue was formed of a large 
pear-shaped pearl, and which bore the inscription henedito 
sea el que te crio; another was shaped like a fish with 
golden eyes; the third was in the form of a rose; the 
fourth in that of a trumpet; and the fifth was fashioned 
into a cup, surmounted by a superb pearl, and standing 
on a base of gold, on which was the inscription, inter natos 
mulierum non surexit major. For this last jewel alone, 
some Genoese merchants who saw it at Palos offered 
forty thousand ducats. The fame of these jewels was 

$6 Letters of Cortes 

such that the Queen expressed a wish to have them, and, 
had not Cortes forestalled the royal desire by presenting 
them to Dona Juana de Zuniga as a marriage gift they 
would doubtless have passed into the crown jewels of 

In the meantime, while Cortes was being lionised and 
honoured in Spain, his enemies in Mexico were not idle, 
for Nufiez de Guzman from the moment of arriving there 
had begun secretly to collect information against him, and 
by unscrupulous and inquisitorial methods easily succeeded 
in forming a voluminous budget of accusations, among 
which figured the alleged poisoning of Luis Ponce de Leon, 
the conspiracy to establish himself as independent sovereign 
in Mexico, defrauding the royal fisc, and incitement of the 
Indians to rebel against the royal authority while he was 
absent in Spain. Encouraging the enemies of Cortes 
to depose against him on the one hand, Guzman found 
excuses for persecuting his friends on the other, even to 
the extent of imprisoning, torturing, and hanging them 
on one pretext or another. Things reached such a pass 
through the violence of the president's conduct, that the 
Bishop Fray Juan Zumarraga, a man whose exemplary 
life gave him great influence, and the Franciscan monks, 
sent a vigorous protest to Spain against Guzman 
and his auditors, praying that he be deposed. This 
petition provoked an order from the Empress-Regent and 
the Royal Council, to take their residencia, and that they 
be imprisoned if found guilty of the abuses imputed 
to them. The bishop himself was appointed, ad interim, 
president of the new aiidiencia, which was composed 
of Quiroga, Salmeron, and Ceynos pending the arrival of 
the permanent president, Don Sebastian Ramirez de 
Fuenleal, then Bishop of San Domingo, and afterwards 
of Cuenca. 

Nufiez de Guzman sought to evade the issue by organ- 
ising, against the Chichimecas, an expedition which he 

Marques del Valle 57 

conducted with characteristic brutality. He left the 
city at the head of five hundred Spaniards, and over 
two thousand Indians, between auxiliaries and camp 
servants, before Cortes returned from Spain. 

The powers conceded to Cortes as Captain-General, 
and for the continuation of his explorations and discover- 
ies, were so large, and so ill-defined, that they could hardly 
fail to conflict with those of the royal audiencia, and 
this came to pass immediately after his arrival at Vera 
Cruz on July 15, 1530. The Marques, as he was hence- 
forward called, was accompanied by his wife and his 
mother, and was received upon landing with jubilation 
by Spaniards and Indians alike, who flocked in thousands 
from all parts to welcome him, and to present their 
grievances for his adjustment. The new audiencia was 
not yet constituted, and the auditors, Matienzo and 
Delgadillo, sent strict orders to Vera Cruz that the people 
assembled there in Cortes's honour disperse to their 
homes, while to Cortes himself, who had meanwhile 
marched amid ovations by the way of Tlascala to Texcoco, 
they delivered a prohibition to enter the capital. This 
order was in conformity with the instructions given him 
before leaving Spain, so he was obliged to respect it, and 
to estabHsh himself at Texcoco until the arrival of the 
new audiencia which took place in December of the same 
year, 1530. At the outset everything went well, and 
the new auditors rendered justice in several of Cortes's 
claims, and took counsel with him concerning affairs and 
the measures to be adopted. This promising state of 
things, however, was of brief duration, and, in their 
letter of February 22, 153 1, to the Emperor, they made 
complaints of his pretensions, and mentioned among 
other things that the bishop in reading the prayers for 
the King and royal family added after the words cum 
prole regia '' et duce exercitus nostri," and that they had 
corrected him for so doing. 

58 Letters of Cortes 

Another of their letters, in August, 1532, complains of 
his great influence over the natives, and of his using 
his powers as Captain-General to revenge himself on his 
enemies, adding, "He says he will resign the Captaincy 
General and return to Spain. Oh if he would only do it ! " 
(Munoz, torn. Ixxix., fol. 118). The auditors at other 
times ad\nsed that he be called to Spain on some 
pretext, — the more so as he wanted to go. 

The conquest finished, Cortes's occupation was gone. 
His proud spirit and active temperament could ill brook 
the checks of the audiencia, and the limitations set to his 
enterprises by men who neither understood nor sym- 
pathised with them. At one time he retired in disgust 
from the capital, intending to devote himself to the ad- 
ministration of the affairs of his vast marquisate of Oaxaca. 
The capture of the picturesque town of Cuernavaca is 
described in the third letter, and for beauty of position 
it has few rivals even in Mexico. Here Cortes had built 
himself a handsome palace and a large church, both 
of which are still standing, though in a lamentable state 
of advancing delapidation. As a planter in Cuba, he had 
already shown initiative and capacity, and he profited 
by his former experience to introduce successfully the 
sugar cane, the silk-worm culture, new breeds of the 
merino sheep and various other kinds of cattle. Mills 
for the handling of raw products were established in 
various places, and these new industries with which 
Cortes endowed Mexico have continued to be among 
her chief sources of wealth. But this was insufficient 
to occupy his restless activities, which, by the news of 
events in Peru, and of the rich countries discovered in the 
South Sea and along the Gulf of California, were constantly 
excited to plan fresh enterprises. In May, 1532, he 
fitted out two vessels which sailed from Acapulco, under 
command of his cousin Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, one 
of which uith the commander on board was never heard of 

Marques del Valle 59 

again, while the other reached Jalisco after many perils. 
The misfortunes of this expedition began with a mutiny. 

Two years later (1534) he built two more vessels at 
Tehuantepec, which he entrusted to Hernando Grijalba, 
and Diego de Bezerra de Mendoza (a relative) respectively, 
with Ortun Jimenez as pilot. The ships got separated 
the first night out and never saw one another again. The 
one commanded by Grijalba discovered a deserted island 
called Santo Tome, somewhere off the point of Lower Cali- 
fornia, and returned thence to Tehuantepec; the fate of 
the other was tragical, for Bezerra was murdered in his 
sleep by the pilot Jimenez, who took command, and, after 
coasting along Jalisco, landed at the Bay of Santa Cruz, 
where he, with twenty Spaniards, was killed by the natives. 
The remaining sailors got back to the port of Chiametla, 
where Nunez de Guzman, who was then in Jalisco, took 
possession of the vessel. 

These two fruitless ventures decided Cortes to take 
command himself, and in 1536 he sent three ships from 
Tehuantepec to the port of Chiametla where he joined 
them, marching overland from Mexico. He regained 
possession of the ship which Guzman had seized from 
the sailors of Jimenez, refitted it, and set out on his 
voyage, exploring the coast for some fifty leagues beyond 
Santa Cruz (or La Paz), during which trip he suffered 
innumerable hardships, and lost many of his men from 
sickness. The news of his own death reached Mexico, 
and his wife sent two ships and a caravel to look for him 
and bring him back. His wife's letters, together with 
others from the royal audiencia and the Viceroy Don 
Antonio de Mendoza, urging his return as very necessary, 
decided Cortes to abandon further explorations, and 
after leaving Francisco de UUoa in California, he returned 
to Acapulco in the early part of 1537. 

He sent three ships, the Santa Agneda, La Trinidad, 
and the Santo Tomas, back to Francisco de Ulloa in 

6o Letters of Cortes 

May of that same year, which after some fruitless cruising 
about, returned to Acapulco, the whole venture having 
cost Cortes some two hundred thousand ducats {Noticia 
Hisiorica. Lorenzana Cartas de Cortes, edition 1776). A 
royal cedilla, dated April i, 1539 from Saragossa, pro- 
vided for the payment of this claim, but remained inef- 
fective (Alaman, Dissertazioni. V. Italian translation 

Thus the only results obtained from these various 

undertakings were debts, and he complained that he had 

so many that he was obliged to raise money, even on his 

%\ife's jewels. He wrote in despair to the Emperor that 

it was easier to fight the Indians than to contend with 

His Majesty's officials, and after years of litigation, during 

which the royal authorities seemed to study how best to vex 

and circumvent him, and after the series of useless but 

costly expeditions in the Pacific, he started on his second 

journey to Spain, which was to be his last. 

A very different reception from the former one awaited 
him, for the Emperor was coldly civil, and the Court 
in consequence was colder. His constant complaints 
and demands for satisfaction fell upon deaf or weary 
ears, for Court favours usually reckon more with present 
than with past services, and there was nothing more to be 
obtained from Cortes, who was broken in health and no 
longer young. At this time, too, Spain was all aflame 
with excitement over the brilliant achievements of 
Pizarro in Peru, which eclipsed the familiar exploits in 
Mexico, now grown stale. 

He joined the unsuccessful expedition sent against 
Algiers in 1541, in which the ship on which he and his 
sons Martin and Luis sailed was wrecked, together with 
eleven galleys of Andrea Doria. They barely escaped 
with their lives, and the five famous emeralds, which 
constituted an important item in his fortune, and which 
he always carried on his person, were lost. 

Marques del Valle 6i 

The supreme slight of leaving him out of the council 
of war, summoned to consider the plan of the campaign, 
was at this time put upon him, and, to his boast that with 
his Mexican veterans he could take Algiers, one of the 
generals superciliously replied, that fighting the Moors 
was different work from killing naked Indians. His 
situation became less and less worthy, and an anecdote, 
dramatically illustrating the depth to which he sunk, re- 
lates that after vain efforts to get a hearing from the 
Emperor, he thrust himself forward to the steps of the 
royal carriage, where upon perceiving him the Sovereign 
haughtily exclaimed, "And who are you?" to which 
Cortes proudly answered, "Sire, I am a man who has 
given Your Majesty more provinces than you possessed 
cities." What happened next we are not told. If it 
were true, the incident would picture eloquently the 
degradation of the greatest captain of his age, forced 
to waylay his Sovereign at his carriage steps like the 
meanest beggar. There is no evidence forthcoming, 
however, to show that any such dialogue was ever spoken. 
Those who have believed and repeated this story, — 
and they are many, — have done so on the sole authority 
of Voltaire, with whom it apparently originated. {Essai 
sur les McBurs, cap. 147.) He does not indicate from what 
source the information reached him. The scene as de- 
scribed seems to epitomise a very tragedy of disappoint- 
ment and humiliation, so despite the staring stamp of 
fiction it bears, it will doubtless continue to pass for 
history when less dramatic facts are consigned to f orget- 
fulness. Voltaire sceptically sneered at the credulity of 
the Spaniards, which enabled them, in the heat of the 
fight, to see St. James and St. Peter hovering over the 
Mexican battlefields but he himself had no difficulty in 
beholding Cortes in such a singularly improbable situa- 
tion as this story depicts, though indeed nothing that is 
told of the appearances of those holy apostles seems 

6a Txttcrs of Cortes 

further beyond the limits of credibiUty. As an un- 
heeded suppHant, the Marques suffered snubs enough, 
without fictitious situations being invented to illustrate 
his fallen state. One last effort to attract his Sovereign's 
attention to his claims, and secure the fulfilment of the 
royal grants and promises, was made in the following 
pathetic letter, — the last he ever wrote to Charles V., — 
to which no response was ever made : 

Sacred Catholic Ccesarian Majesty: 

I thought that the labour of my youth would have pro- 
cured me repose in my old age, and thus for forty years I 
have given myself to God's ser\-ice, deprived of sleep, eating 
poorly, and even at times not eating at all, with my arms 
always at my side, myself exposed to dangers and my fortune 
sacrificed to bring into His fold the sheep of a distant and 
unknown hemisphere, of which we even had no record, and 
to magnify the name, and extend the patrimony of my King 
by conquering and bringing imder his royal yoke and sceptre 
the great kingdoms and dominions of barbarous peoples. 
And this I have done at my own expense, unaided in any way, 
— nay rather hindered by emulous rivals, who like leeches 
have sucked my very blood. 

My hardships and vigils are sufficiently recompensed by 
God, in that He chose me for this. His work, and though 
people may attribute some merit to me, it will be clearly 
seen that not without reason did Divine Providence choose 
the meanest instrument for its greatest work, so that to God 
alone might be the glory. 

As for the remuneration due me from my King, I have 
ever been confident that, coeteris paribus, it would not be less 
for being in Your Majesty's reign ; for never did these king- 
doms of my native Spain, to which these benefits accrue, 
possess so great and catholic a prince, so magnanimous and 
powerful a King. Thus when first I kissed Your Majesty's 
hands, and presented the fruits of my labours, you showed 
appreciation of them, and demonstrated intentions to recom- 
pense me with honours which, as it seemed to me, they 

Marques del Valle 63 

were not equivalent to my deserts, Your Majesty knows I de- 
murred at accepting. 

Your Majesty commanded, however, that I should accept 
them, saying they were not in payment for my services, but 
to demonstrate your disposition to favour me, for Your Ma- 
jesty would do as those who when shooting with the crossbow, 
begin by firing beside the mark, but end by piercing the 
bull's-eye, for the favours Your Majesty conferred upon me 
were outside the mark, but would improve until they struck 
the bull's-eye of my deserts. I was also assured that nothing 
should be taken from me, and that I must accept what was 
given me; hence I kissed Your Majesty's hands in gratitude. 
When you turned your back, all that I had was taken from 
me, nor were Your Majesty's promises to me fulfilled, for 
since Your Majesty has such a good memory, you will not 
have forgotten that besides these words and the promises 
Your Majesty made me, I possess still more and greater ones 
in Your Majesty's letters, signed with your Royal name. 
If my services up to that time merited such acts and the 
promises Your Majesty made me, they have not since then 
diminished, for I have never ceased to increase the patrimony 
of these kingdoms, and had it not been for the thousand ob- 
stacles opposed to me, I would have accomplished as much 
since I received Your Majesty's favours, as I had before done 
to merit them. I do not know wherefore the promised benefits 
are now withheld, nor why I am deprived of those I possessed. 
And if it be said that nothing has been taken since I still 
possess something, I reply that to have nothing, or to have 
useless possessions, is one and the same thing, for what I 
have produces me nothing; better were it to have nothing 
at all than to have to use its profits to defend myself against 
Your Majesty's fiscal officers, which indeed is harder than it 
was to win the country from the Indians. Thus my labour 
has procured me peace of mind for having done my duty, but 
has brought me no profit, for not only am I without rest in 
my old age, but work on until my death, should it not please 
God to finish me now; for he who is so occupied in defending 
his body must needs neglect his soul. 

I beseech Your Majesty not to requite such conspicuous 

64 Letters of Cortes 

services with so small a recompense, and since it must be 
believed that this is not Your Majesty's fault, let it be known ; 
for, this work which God has accomplished through me is so 
great and marvellous, and its fame has spread so far through 
all your kingdoms, and through all Christendom, and even 
amongst the infidels, that everywhere the dissension between 
the Royal fisc and me is a subject of scandal. Some blame 
the fiscal officers, others blame me; but since the blame suffices 
neither to deprive me of the compensation nor to take from 
me my life, my honour, and my estate, (since none of this 
is done), it is clear that the fault is not mine. No one im- 
putes it to Your Majesty, for did you wish to deprive me of 
all you had given me, the power to do so is yours, and nothing 
is impossible to your wish and power. To say that a form 
is sought in which the intention may be realised, does not 
sound credible, for it suffices for a King anointed of God to 
declare "thus I will and thus I command," for all to be ac- 
complished without regard to forms. 

I beseech that Your Majesty may be pleased to explain 
in Madrid your intention to requite my services, and I now 
recall some of these to your memory. Your Majesty told 
me you would order the Council to despatch my affairs, and 
I thought this order was given since Your Majesty said 
that you desired there should be no contention with the 
fiscal officers. When I asked for information, they told me 
I must defend myself in a suit against the claim of the fiscal 
officers, and abide by the sentence of the Court. This seemed 
to me to be grave, and I wrote to Your Majesty at Barcelona, 
begging that if Your Majesty was pleased to enter into liti- 
gation with your servant, that it should be before judges who 
were above suspicion, and that Your Majesty should order 
others to sit with those of the Council for the Indies, and 
jointly reach a decision. Your Majesty was not pleased to 
do this, though I cannot divine the cause, since the more 
numerous the judges the better would be their decision. 

I am old and poor, with more than twenty thousand 
ducats of debts in the kingdom, besides a hundred more which 
I brought or were sent after me, and of which I also owe some- 
thing, for they were borrowed to be sent to me. And all draw 

Marques del Valle 65 

interest. During the five years which have elapsed since I 
left home, my expenses have been great, for I have main- 
tained my three sons at Court, without once leaving, and 
besides them men of learning, procurators, and solicitors, 
who were all employed that Your Majesty might make use 
of them. I also assisted in the expedition to Algiers. It 
seems to me the fruit of my labours should not be thrown away, 
or left to the decision of a few, without my again begging that 
Your Majesty should be pleased to allow that all your judges of 
the Council should understand this case and decide it justly. 

I have heard that the Bishop of Cuenca desired more 
judges than there are, because it is against him and the 
licenciate Salmeron, the new auditor of the Indian Council, 
that I am contending for sums of money, with interest, of 
which they deprived me when they were judges in New Spain, 
and it is clear that they cannot be asked to decide against 
themselves. I have not wished to recuse them in this case, 
because I always believed Your Majesty would not permit 
it to reach this stage, but since Your Majesty does not please 
to increase the number of judges, I am forced to recuse the 
Bishop of Cuenca and Salmeron, which I do unwillingly as it 
wastes time. This is the most damaging thing for me at 
sixty years of age, and, after five years' absence from home. 
I have but one son to succeed me, and though my wife is 
young enough to bear more, my age leaves little hope, and 
should it please God to dispose of this one before the suc- 
cession, who will profit by what I have acquired? My very 
memory were lost in the succession of women. Again and 
again I implore Your Majesty to associate other judges with 
those of the Council ; since all are your servants to whom the 
direction of your Kingdoms and your Royal conscience is 
confided, so also may they be trusted to decide upon Your 
Majesty's grant to your vassal of a part of all which he won 
for Your Majesty, without labour or cost to your Royal Person, 
nor the responsibility of directing nor the expense of paying 
the men, who did the work, and who so loyally made over to 
Your Majesty, not only the country he conquered, but a vast 
quantity of gold and silver and jewels which he obtained as 

VOL. I— s 

66 Letters of Cortes 

May Your Majesty also be pleased to order the judges to 
give their decision within a certain time Your Majesty shall 
fix and without delay. This will be a great grace to me, for 
waiting is my loss, as I must return home, being now no 
longer of an age to travel from inn to inn, but rather to with- 
draw and settle my account with God, for it is a long one, 
and little life is left me to discharge it; better to lose my 
estate than my soul. 

May God our Lord guard the Royal Person of Your 
Majesty, with the extension of your Kingdoms and glory as 
Y'our Majesty may desire. 

From Valladolid, the 3rd of February, 1544. 

Your Catholic Majesty's very humble ser\-ant and vassal, 
who kisses your Royal hands and feet. 

The Marques del Valle. 

No reply necessary, is the laconic annotation at the 
bottom of the last page of this letter. 

The marriage arranged for his daughter with a son of 
the Marquis of Astorga was broken off, the bridegroom 
withdrawing because the full amount of the stipulated 
dowTy was not forthcoming, and after this mortification, 
Cortes obtained permission to return to Mexico, travelling 
first to Seville, where he was accorded a public reception. 
His rapidly failing health made it apparent that his end 
was approaching, and prompted him to withdraw for 
quiet to Castelleja de la Cuesta, a small town near Se- 
ville, where he died in the house of a magistrate, Juan 
Rodriguez, in the Calle Real, on the 2nd of December, 
1547, attended by his son Don Martin. 

Fernando Cortes w^as a man of medium height, deep 
chested and slender limbed; his complexion was rather 
pale, and his expression was serious — even sad, though 
the glance of his eyes, which in repose were impenetrable, 
could be kindly and responsive. His hair and beard were 
dark and rather scanty. 

Marques del Valle 67 

Trained from his youth to the exercise of arms, he 
was a most dexterous swordsman, very Hght on his feet, 
and at home in the saddle. 

His speech was cakn, nor did he ever use oaths or 
strong language, nor give away to exhibitions of temper 
though a mounting flush and the swelling veins of his 
forehead betrayed his mastered passion when he was 
vexed, while a characteristic gesture of annoyance or 
impatience was the casting aside of his cloak. 

He dressed with exquisite care and great sobriety, 
eschewing any excess of ornament. One splendid jewel 
adorned his hand, a gold medal of the Blessed Virgin, 
with St. John on the reverse, hung from a finely wrought 
gold chain around his neck, and just under the feathers 
of his cap w^as also a gold medal; these were his only 
ornaments. He had some knowledge of Latin, and many 
of the psalms, hymns, and parts of the Church liturgy, 
which he knew by heart, he was fond of reciting. 

Though careless of his food, he was a great eater, but 
moderate in drinking, and no one could better withstand 
privations than he, as was constantly shown on his long 
marches. His chief relaxation was games of chance, in 
which he indulged habitually, but dispassionately, making 
either his winnings or losses a subject for jokes and 
laughter. When strict laws were enacted suppressing 
gambling in Mexico, his enemies alleged that he himself 
violated the law, and that the tables and cards were 
always ready in his own house. 

One of the most notable things in his last will is the 
mention of his doubts about the right of holding slaves. 
He admonishes his eldest son to look well into the ques- 
tion, and if it should be decided by competent opinion 
that the practice was wrong, he must act in accordance 
with strict justice ; meanwhile he must give great attention 
to the welfare and education of his people. He left a 
foundation and endowment fund for the hospital of Jesus 

68 Letters of Cortes 

{la Conccpcion) in Mexico, and for a college and monastery 
at Coyohuacan, but the funds ran short, and only the 
hospital was really estabHshed according to his intention. 
Masses were directed to be said at his father's tomb, and 
two thousand masses were provided for the souls of those 
who had fought with him in the conquest, a provision 
which cannot be considered in excess of their probable 
spiritual necessities. 

In his wAW it was provided also that his body should 
be buried wherever he died for a period of ten years, at 
the expiration of which time his remains were to be taken 
to Mexico, to be there entombed in the monastery he had 
founded in Coyohuacan; consequently his body was 
first laid to rest with fitting ceremonies in the family 
Chapel of the Dukes of Medina Sidonia, in the Church of 
San Isidro at Seville. 

The following epitaph was composed by his son Martin : 

Padre, cuya suerte impropiamente 
Aqueste bajo mundo poseia, 
Valor que nuestra edad enriquecia 

Descansa ahora en paz, eternamente. 

(Andres Calvo, Los Tres Siglos dd Mexico.) 

There his body lay, until by order of his son Don 
Martin Cortes, second Marques del Valle, it w^as removed 
in 1562 to Mexico, but, contrary to the provisions in the 
will, the place of sepulture was chosen in the monastery 
of St. Francis in Texcoco, where his mother and one of 
his daughters were already buried. 

In 1629 Don Pedro Cortes fourth Marques del Valle 
died in Mexico, and with his death the male descendance 
of Cortes came to an end. 

It was decided between the Viceroy, the Marques de 
Cerralbo, and the Archbishop of Mexico, D. Francisco 
Manso de Zufiiga, to translate the body of the Conqueror 

Marques del Valle 69 

to the capital and bury it together with that of his last 
descendant in the Church of St. Francis. 

An elaborate funeral procession was organised, which 
set forth from the Cortes palace headed by all the re- 
ligious associations and confraternities, carrying their 
respective banners, after which followed the civil tribu- 
nals. Next came the Archbishop accompanied by the 
cathedral chapter in full canonicals. The body of Don 
Pedro Cortes was exposed to view in an open coffin carried 
by knights of the chapter of Santiago, while the coffin of 
his great ancestor covered with a black velvet pall was 
borne by the royal judges, escorted by standard bearers 
carrying a white banner on which were embroidered the 
figures of the Blessed Virgin and St. John; another dis- 
playing the royal arms of Spain and a third of black 
velvet showing the arms of the Marques del Valle. Mem- 
bers of the University followed, and the procession closed 
with the Viceroy and all his court with an escort of 
soldiers carrying arms reversed and banners trailing. 
This funeral pageant — probably the most magnificent 
ever seen in the new world — advanced to the accompani- 
ment of muffled drums and solemn chan tings, halting at 
six different places for brief religious rites. 

During more than a century and a half the bones of 
Cortes were left undisturbed, until in 1794 they were 
moved once more, and this time to the hospital of Jesus 
of Nazareth, which he had founded and endowed, and in 
whose chapel a monument was prepared to receive the 
body, which was coffined in a crystal case riveted with 
silver bars. Would that this translation had been the 
last, and that the pilgrimages of this poor body had 
ended within the walls its owner's piety had built. 

During the period of unrest which followed immedi- 
ately upon the establishment of Mexican independence, 
a design was said to have been formed by some " patriots " 
to rifle the tomb, and scatter the conqueror's ashes to 

70 Letters of Cortes 

the winds, of which profanation the authorities were said 
to be aware, but either unwilhng or unable to prevent it. 
Others contrived to forestall the threatened violation, 
and from 1823 the body of Cortes disappeared. Senor 
Garcia Icazbalceta WTOte to Mr. Henry Harrisse upon the 
subject saying: 

The place of the present sepulture of Cortes is wrapped in 
mystery. Don Lucas Alaman has told the history of the 
remains of this great man. Without positively saying so, he 
lets it be understood that they were taken to Italy. 

It is generally believed that the bones of Cortes are in 
Palermo. But some persons insist that they are still in Mexico, 
hidden in some place absolutely unknown. Notwithstanding 
the friendship with which Senor Alaman has honoured me, I 
never could obtain from him a positive explanation; he would 
always find some pretext to change the conversation. 

Sefior Alaman's description of what occurred in 1823 
is substantially as follows: 

Early in the year 1822 discussions began in the Mexi- 
can Congress, in which the project of destroying the 
monument in the hospital (of Jesus) chapel was mooted ; 
in the month of August of that year, Father Mier, in the 
hope of forestalling the intended desecration, proposed that 
the monument should be transferred to the National ]\Iu- 
seum. The following year, 1823, w^as marked by the trans- 
port to the capital of the remains of the patriots who had 
proclaimed the independence of 1810, and certain new^spa- 
pers published violent articles, inciting the people to cele- 
brate this event by rifling the tomb of the Conqueror, and 
burning his body at St. Lazaro. Fearing the execution of 
this threat, which would have left an indelible stain on the 
national honour, the Vicar General directed the chaplain 
of the hospital to conceal the body in a secure place, and 
both Sefior Alaman himself and Count Fernando Lucchesi, 
who represented the Duke of Terranova's interests in 

Marques del Valle 71 

Mexico at that time, assisted at the temporary hiding 
away of the remains under the steps of the altar. The 
bust and arms of gilded bronze were sent to the Duke of 
Terranova in Palermo, and the dismantled monument 
remained in the chapel until 1833, when it also disap- 
peared (Alaman Dissertazioni sulla Storia del Messico 
Dissert. V., Italian translation by Pelaez, 1859). 

Thus far Senor Alaman is as explicit as possible, but 
concerning the final resting place of the body he says 
nothing whatever on his own account, closing the sub- 
ject by introducing a quotation from Dr. Mora (who, 
he says, was the first to publish these facts) , which states 
that "afterwards the remains were sent to his family." 

In the collaborated work published under the special 
direction of Don Vincente Riva Palacio, entitled Mexico 
a Traves los Siglos, it is stated in a note on page 353 of 
the second volume, that Cortes's body was sent to the 
Duke of Monteleone in Italy in 1823. {''fueren rimitidos 
a Italia a la casa de los Duques de Monteleone''). In the 
chapters of the fourth volume, which chronicle the events 
of the year 1823, no mention is made of this occurrence, 
which it would surely seem was of sufficient importance 
to merit notice. Neither Mr. Prescott nor Sir Arthur 
Helps, nor any other as far as I can discover, has left a 
record of any attempts to clear up this mystery. 

If the remains of the conqueror were taken to Palermo 
or consigned to the family of the Dukes of Monteleone, 
there is no record of the transaction, nor is any tradition 
of it known, even by hearsay, to the present members of 
the family, or to the keepers of the family archives. 

Not the least of the glories of the Pignatelli family, 
which has kept its place among the foremost of Sicily 
and Naples, is their descent from the Spanish conqueror 
of Mexico, and it seems inadmissible that the body of 
this illustrious ancestor should arrive at Palermo as 
recently as 1823, be buried nobody knows where, and no 

72 Letters of Cortes 

record of any sort be kept of such an important and 
interesting event in the annals of the family. The ab- 
sence, therefore, of any record, or even oral tradition, 
of such an event seems to be at least a negative proof 
that it never took place. It is quite thinkable that the 
custodians of the hospital chapel, where the body lay in 
1823, should have invented and circulated the fiction of 
its transport out of the country to convince the intending 
desecrators that it had been put beyond their reach; 
meanwhile it was easy to hide the coffin in some secret 
place, doubtless within the walls of the hospital itself, 
where it may still lie in a forgotten grave. The legend of 
the transport to Italy and the burial in Palermo being thus 
started and doubtless diligently spread with a purpose, 
encountered no contradiction, and, with the death of the 
necessarily few persons who possessed the secret, all 
knowledge of the facts was lost, while the invention passed 
from legend into history, and has been commonly ac- 
cepted and quoted. Sefior Garcia Icazbalceta's letter 
to Mr. Harrisse does, however, state that " some persons 
insist that they are still in Mexico hidden in some place 
absolutely unknown," and these persons are doubtless 
right. Why Seiior Alaman should have made any 
mystery about the matter, even with his friend Icazbal- 
ceta, does not seem easy to explain, especially if he knew 
the body to be in Palermo. If Sefior Alaman knew the 
body was in Mexico, but wished to encourage the belief 
that it was in Palermo, his reticence with Seiior Garcia 
Icazbalceta is explicable, for it must also be borne in 
mind that he never positively said he knew it to be in 
Palermo, — ^he merely gave it to be understood that he 
thought so by quoting Dr. Mora, who stated the fact 
without offering any proofs of its truth. If he wished 
what he knew was not true to be beHeved, his regard for 
truth forbade his going to the length of a positive state- 
ment, but he might feel justified for motives which, what- 

Marques del Valle 73 

ever they were, in the first half of the last century, have 
no existence now, in encouraging the spread of the Pa- 
lermo legend. Or it may also well be that Sefior Alaman 
was partly convinced by what he heard that the body 
was in Palermo, but in the face of the contrary assertions 
made by some persons, and the absence of any authentic 
record of the transaction, was reluctant to commit him- 
self to a positive statement. 

The Republic of Mexico has emerged from its state 
of infancy, and has successfully survived the periods of 
trials, and perilous struggles, which all new nations must 
traverse to reach the state of permanent and prosperous 
peace, indispensable to national greatness. The four 
hundredth anniversary of the discovery and conquest, 
which looms in sight, will find her in the foremost ranks 
of the republics of the New World, and these great events 
will doubtless be commemorated by becoming celebra- 
tions, which shall suitably revive the memory of the 
great Conqueror, and his intrepid allies of Tlascala. 
If there be any clue or trace by which the body of Cortes 
can be found, it should be diligently followed up, until 
the remains are recovered and restored to the place of 
honour in the national pantheon. 




IN the name of the Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and 
Holy Ghost, who are three persons and one, only, and 
true God Whom I hold, believe, and confess to be my 
true God and Redeemer, and of the most glorious and for- 
tunate Virgin His Blessed Mother, our Lady and Advocate. 
Let all who may see this Testament know that I, Don 
Fernando Cortes, Marques del Valle de Oaxaca, Captain 
General of New Spain and the South Sea for the Caesarian 
Majesty of the Emperor Charles, fifth of this name, my sover- 
eign Prince and Lord, being ill, but in such free and sound 
judgment with which it has pleased God to endow me, fearing 
death, as is natural to every creature, and desiring to prepare 
myself against such time as it may please God to call me 
hence, do for the good of my soul, and the peace and discharge 
of my conscience, execute, and recognise this document which 
I do make, and order as my last testament and final will, in 
the following form and manner. 

I. First I direct that, should I die in the Spanish realm, 
my body shall be interred in the church of that parish wherein 
shall stand the house in which I die, and that there it shall 
remain until such time as it may please my successor to trans- 
port my bones to New Spain; this I charge and direct him to 
do within ten years and sooner if possible, and that he trans- 
port them thence to my town of Coyoacan, and there give 
them sepulture in the monastery of the nuns called La Con- 
cepcion, of the order of St. Francis which I have founded in 
my said town, with provision for the interment of myself 
and my successors. 

II. Item: I direct that should it please God that my end 
and death should take place in this realm of Spain, my burial 
shall be attended to, according to the provisions of those 


78 Letters of Cortes 

gentlemen whom I have named my executors, or of any one 
of them who may be present, and that everything suitable 
thereto be decently ordered. 

III. I direct, furthermore, that the beneficed clergy and 
chaplains of the parish church of the town or place where I 
die shall carry my body, and that all the monks of the re- 
ligious Orders shall also march in procession, headed by the 
cross, and assist at the obsequies which shall be celebrated; 
and I direct that the usual alms may be given to the said 
religious orders according to the judgment of my said 

IV. Item: I direct that, on the day of my death, fifty 
poor men be pro\'ided out of my means with full gowns of 
grey cloth, with large hoods of the same, and shall accompany 
my funeral procession bearing lighted torches, after which 
each shall receive one real. 

V. Item: I direct that on the same day of my funeral, 
if it should take place before midday, and otherwise on the 
day following, all the masses possible shall be said in all the 
churches and monasteries of the said city or town or place 
of my death; and besides these masses, five thousand more 
shall be said on successive days in the following manner: 
one thousand for the souls in purgatory, two thousand 
for the souls of those who lost their lives ser\'ing under 
me in the discoveries and conquests which I made in New 
Spain, and the two remaining thousand for the souls of all 
towards whom I have obligations of which I am ignorant or 
forgetful; those which I do know and remember shall be 
discharged as I direct in this my testament. My executors 
shall recompense the said five thousand masses according to 
custom, and I beg them in all that concerns my funeral to 
suppress the worldly pomps, and devote money rather to the 
good of souls. 

VI. Item: On the said day of my burial my executors 
shall furnish all my own servants and those of my sons with a 
suitable mourning dress, as they shall judge proper, and during 
six succeeding months, my servants shall continue to receive 
their usual stipend with their food and drink, exactly as 
during my lifetime. Those who do not remain in the service 

Last Will and Testament 79 

of my son and successor Don Martin shall receive their pay- 
ment in full on the day they leave his service. 

VII. Item: I direct that when my bones shall be trans- 
ported to New Spain for interment in the monastery church 
of Coyoacan, which I direct to be built, that this shall be 
done by order of the Marquesa Dona Juana de Zuniga, my 
wife, and in such wise as she or my son or my successor at 
that time, whichever of them may be living at that time, shall 

VIII. Item: I direct that the bones of Doha Catalina 
Pizarro my lady mother, and those of Don Luis my son, 
which are buried in the monastery church of St. Francis in 
Texcoco, and those of Dona Catalina my daughter which are 
in the monastery of Cuahuanavac (Cuernavaca) , be brought, 
and buried in my sepulchre in the said monastery which I 
found in my town of Coyoacan. 

IX. Item: I direct that the hospital of Our Lady of the 
Conception, which I directed to be founded in the city of 
Mexico in New Spain, shall be finished at my cost according 
to the plan drawn. The principal chapel of its church shall 
be completed according to the model in wood made by Pedro 
Vasquez Jumetrico, and the plan described in the letter which 
I sent to New Spain, in this present year 1547. For these 
costs I set apart especially the rents deriving from my shops 
and houses in the said city, situated in the square and street 
of Tacuba and San Francisco, and in the street which unites 
them; this income shall be given exclusively to the said works 
until they are completed, nor shall my successor employ 
them for any other purposes. But it is my wish and will 
that the expenditure be made by my successor as patron of 
the hospital, and, when the works are finished according to 
the said plans, that the same rents shall be devoted to pro- 
viding revenues for the wants of the administration, and the 
direction of the said hospital, following in this institution 
the order laid down by me before a notary public. Failing 
this, I direct that the same system of administration be 
adopted as that which obtains in the hospital of the Five 
Wounds, founded by Dona Catalina de Rivera (may she 
have glory), for maintaining the administrators, chaplains. 

8o Letters of Cortes 

and other officers and sen'ants attached to the said 

X. Item: I direct that in the chapel of the monastery 
of St. Francis in Mcdcllin, where my father Martin Cortes is 
buried, the memorial masses, for which I leave provision, 
shall be celebrated yearly in perpetuity. My successor or 
successors shall for all time see to this, for which purpose I 
name, as patron of the said chapel, my son and successor 
Don Martin Cortes, and after him those who shall follow him 
in the succession. He, holding the said patronage (or those 
who succeed him by right of primogeniture), may name as 
his substitute for the exercise of the said patronage such 
person or persons as may be desirable for such time as may 
please him, and hold full power to revoke such appointment 
whenever he may so desire, substituting any other who is 
deemed suitable. Such person, thus appointed, shall, in the 
absence of the head of my house, hold the same power and 
faculties as the said patron himself, for such time as his 
appointment may last. 

XI. Item: I declare that since Almighty God Our Lord 
has vouchsafed to advance and favour me in the discovery 
and conquest of New Spain, and I have always received from 
His merciful hand very great favours and mercies, both in 
my victories over the enemies of His Holy Catholic Faith, 
and in the pacification and settlement of those kingdoms, 
from which I hope great service may accrue to God our Lord, 
I order that the following works be undertaken in grateful 
recognition of those said favours and mercies, and also to 
discharge and satisfy my conscience for whatsoever faults 
or burdens may lie thereon, but of which my memory no 
longer takes account to enable me to specify them: 

XII. I order and direct that, in addition to the aforesaid 
hospital which I have already provided shall be built in the 
city of Mexico, a monastery of the nuns of the Conception, 
belonging to the Order of St. Francis, shall be built in my 
town of Coyoacan, in such place, and according to such plan 
as I shall indicate; and should I not leave these instructions, 
then I direct that my successor or his deputy shall found and 
build it, providing a community \\'ith such endowment as 

Last Will and Testament 8i 

shall be required. I designate the said monastery in my 
town of Coyoacan as my place of sepulture, which I direct 
shall be in the major chapel of the church of the said monas- 
tery, where no other persons except my legitimate descend- 
ants may be buried. 

XIII. Item: I direct that a college shall be built in my 
said town of Coyoacan for students of theology and canon 
law; that there may be learned persons to officiate in the 
churches, and to train and instruct the natives in our Holy 
Catholic Faith. This college shall be provided with faculties, 
and receive a number of students, and the rules and consti- 
tutions which I shall establish for it shall be observed. It 
shall be built in such place, and after a plan suitable to the 
said institution, and with such regulations and ordinances 
as I shall prescribe, and, if perchance I should not explain 
these, I direct that my successor or his deputy shall organise 
and build it, adopting the statutes, constitutions, and or- 
dinances governing the college of Santa Maria de Jesus founded 
in this city of Seville. The costs and expenses of the said 
college shall be covered and supplied from the rents which 
will be designated. 

XIV. Item: I destine, for the endowment of the said 
hospital of Our Lady of the Conception which I am building 
in Mexico, two front ground plots of the houses of Jorge 
Alvarado, and of the treasurer Juan Alonso de Sosa, between 
my house and the aqueduct which extends to the houses of 
Don Luis Saavedra, which being now unoccupied, I assume 
the obligation to construct such buildings as may amply 
suffice for the said endowment. During such time as the 
said buildings are not constructed, the said hospital shall 
receive support from my estate to the amount of one hundred 
thousand maravedis of good money. I direct that the said 
endowment shall be furnished as is provided, and with the 
conditions I shall hereafter state, and I direct that my suc- 
cessor shall be free at any time to allot the said hospital 
some part of the said one hundred thousand maravedis in- 
come, in lieu of the said buildings, should he so desire, affect- 
ing this substitution in any assured manner he may wish. 

XV. Item: as, likewise, I have stated and bound myself 

82 Letters of Cortes 

to furnish to the said hospital lands near the city of Mexico, 
producing three hundred thousand fanegas of wheat, as is 
set forth in the said endowment to which I refer, I direct 
that this obhgation be fulfilled, and I assign for such pur- 
pose a piece of land, which I own, at the extremity of Coy- 
oacan, situated between that town, and the river which 
crosses the road leading to Chapultepec. Should this not 
suffice, the amount shall be completed, at the option of my 
successor, from other lands where I have had, and have, my 
plantations, situated beyond the said river in the direction of 
Chapultepec. Should my successor or successors at any time 
wish to substitute for the said hospital, as required by the 
endowment, other lands producing three hundred thousand 
fatiegas of wheat, this may be done, on condition that 
they are as good as those I have designated. As I do 
not know whether some part of the lands, indicated and 
named by me for the said hospital, may not belong to me as 
Seiior (proprietary lord) of that place, or by other title, I 
direct that any such be restored to their owners, who shall be 
paid the full value to their satisfaction. As I have worked 
such lands, profiting b}^ them, under the belief that I might 
do so with a clear conscience, I direct that the rightful owners 
of the said lands be repaid the amount it may be shown I ha\e 
derived from them, so that my conscience may be clean; my 
said successor shall be obliged, should these lands be shown 
not to belong to me, to make good the amount provided in 
the act of endowment to the said hospital. 

XVI. Item: I declare and say that, as has been stated, 
the construction of the said hospital in Mexico shall be com- 
pleted in the said city as above mentioned out of the rents of 
the lands and buildings I own in the square and streets of 
Tacuba and San Francisco; and this construction completed, 
the income from the said shops and buildings shall revert to 
my successor or successors. They shall henceforth devote 
this entire sum annually to the construction of the monastery 
of nuns, and of the above mentioned college which I directed 
to be founded and built in my said town of Coyoacan, using 
and distributing the sums necessary to put them in possession. 

XVII. And, that the works of the said hospital, mon- 

Last Will and Testament 83 

astery, and college above described may be speedily completed, 
and the service of God our Lord thereby promoted, as it is 
hoped, I direct that, in addition to the four thousand ducats 
derived from the buildings already indicated for the works of 
the said hospital in Mexico, and the said college and monastery 
in Coyoacan, six thousand ducats more shall be used from 
my estate each year from the date of my death, so that in all 
there will thus be ten thousand ducats devoted to this pur- 
pose ; four thousand from the income of the shops and buildings 
for the work on the said hospital until it is finished; three 
thousand for the construction of the said monastery of nuns ; 
and the remaining three thousand for the building of the said 
college. When the work on the said hospital shall be ter- 
minated, the four thousand ducats set apart therefor shall 
be divided into equal parts, and devoted to the works on the 
said monastery and college, so that each of these may thus 
dispose of five thousand ducats yearly. These works being 
completed, in order to relieve my successor of the obligation 
of continuing from thenceforth forever to give the six thousand 
and the four thousand ducats from the income of the said 
shops and buildings, these sums shall be distributed as follows: 
one thousand ducats for the endowment and estates of the 
said monastery of n^ms which, as has been said, I directed to be 
founded in my town of Coyoacan; two thousand ducats for 
the endowment and expenses of the said college which I 
directed to be founded in the same town ; and another thousand 
ducats do I adjudge to the said hospital of the Conception 
which I directed to be founded in the said city of Mexico. 
This last shall be with such condition that, by a yearly pay- 
ment of this sum, the obligation assumed by me and my 
successor and successors (to build for the endowment of the 
said hospital certain houses, and two front ground plots of 
the houses of Jorge de Alvarado and the treasurer Juan de 
Sosa) may be acquitted, as well our obligation to provide one 
hundred thousand maravedis of annual income to the said 
hospital should we fail to construct the said buildings. This 
is also that I and my successor and successors may be released 
from the obligation, which I assumed when I endowed the said 
hospital, of giving it certain lands near the city of Mexico, 

§4 Letters of Cortes 

yielding three hundred fanegas of wheat ; for it is my wish and 
intention that, by giving the said hosjiital an annual income in 
perpetuity of one thousand ducats, I and my successor and suc- 
cessors may be released from all claim upon the said houses, 
or in lieu of them, the said one hundred thousand maravedis, 
and the said lands producing three hundred fanegas of wheat ; 
all of which both in whole and in part I direct shall return 
to the possession and enjoyment of my successor and suc- 
cessors. Should the said hospital not desist from such claim, 
I direct that this provision and endowment of one thousand 
ducats yearly income shall be of no value or effect, but this 
sum shall revert to my successor or successors. 

XVIII. Item: I say that, inasmuch as it is seen by ex- 
perience that the revenues from lands and houses, both 
in Spain and in New Spain, increase daily, my shops and 
buildings, above mentioned, may become of greater value, 
and yield an income exceeding the amount of four thousand 
ducats which I devise and give forevermore, as is attested 
by the endowments of the said monastery of nuns, the said 
college, and the said hospital, and it is my will that should 
the said shops and buildings become more valuable and yield 
more rent, that the excess of value and rent, over and above 
the said four thousand ducats, shall be di\'ided as follows: 
two parts of the said excess to go to the said college and of 
the remaining two parts one each to the said monastery of 
nuns and to the said hospital. 

XIX. Item: I say and direct that, by virtue of the grant 
made to me by the Emperor our King, and Lord of the tow^ns 
therein mentioned, his rights of patronage over the churches 
of the said towns belong to me in conformity with a clause of 
the said grant, in which it is declared that I possess in those 
towns all the rights, contributions, and customs, and every- 
thing else which His Majesty has or may have in the other 
towns of New Spain, which, excepting the mines and salt, 
remain the property of his royal crown. Thus, except these 
two things specified in the grant, the right of patronage 
belonging to him, belongs for the same reason to me. In 
addition to the grant made me by His Majesty, I hold the 
said rights of patronage by concession of His Holiness, the bull 

Last Will and Testament 85 

for which is deposited with His Majesty, and his Council for 
the Indies, that they may recognise as valid the said concession. 
I desire, and it is my will, that my successor or successors, 
may have and preserve forever the said right of patron- 
age. As, at the time I solicited the concession from His 
Holiness, it was my intention that the natives of those towns 
should be better instructed in the doctrines of our Holy Catholic 
Faith, I direct and charge Don Martin, my son, and successor 
and successors, to have very special care of this, conferring the 
benefices of the said towns upon able men of good life and 
example, with the obligation to daily instruct the said natives; 
and that they take great care to oversee and ascertain very 
particularly how this is done and fulfilled. As the said con- 
cession from His Holiness says that I and my heirs and suc- 
cessors should have and receive the tithes and first fruits from 
the said towns, comprised in the right of patronage for the 
endowment of the churches, I direct that dowries, vestments, 
and other things necessary for the cult, and the wine for the 
administration of the Sacraments, be aU provided for out of 
the said tithes and first fruits. During such time as this is 
not complied with, through no fault of my successor or suc- 
cessors, the said tithes and first fruits may not be employed 
otherwise, for, from this time forth and forever, I destine and 
apply these to provide the said churches with all whatsoever 
belongs to or concerns them in so far as may be necessary for 
the purposes above expressed, the control and enjoyment of 
the said right of patronage remaining to my successors the 
same as it has been conceded to me; hence it is my will that 
whatever may remain of the said titles and first fruits of these 
churches, over and above the expenses above set forth, being 
properties dedicated to God Our Lord, and to His holy temples, 
shall be used and distributed in works of His service, and for 
no other purpose I say therefor and direct that such surplus 
of tithes and first fruits, after each year's expenditure for 
the above mentioned objects, shall be adjudged perpetually 
by my successor or successors or their deputies as fol- 
lows: — one half to the endowment of the said college, and 
the remainder divided equally between the said monas- 
tery, and the said hospital, in the same proportion as the 

86 Letters of Cortes 

division which is made of the rents from the said shops and 

XX. Item: I direct that ten thousand ducats be paid to 
my wife, the Marquesa Doiia Juana de Zuniga, which sum 
I received as her dowTy ; forasmuch as I received and expended 
them, and they belong to her, I direct that they be paid with- 
out dispute or question from the first and best properties of 
my estate. 

XXI. Item: I say that, since, between Don Pedro Alvarez 
Osorio, marques de Astorga, and myself, it has been arranged 
and concerted that his eldest son and heir, Don Alvaro Perez 
Osorio, should marry Dona Maria Cortes, legitimate daughter 
of myself and the Marquesa Dona Juana de Zuniga, my 
wife, and the conditions of this marriage have been set forth 
in a contract, it is my will that it should be fulfilled according 
to the stipulations; and as I have agreed and promised one 
hundred thousand ducats as a dower for the said Dona Maria» 
my daughter, of which the marques de Astorga, conformably 
to the said stipulations, has already received twenty thousand 
ducats, I desire that before ever\i;hing else the remaining 
eighty thousand ducats be paid from the estates of the said 
marquesa, my wife, and from my own to complete the 
said dower, at the time and in the manner provided in the said 
contract. These sums shall be charged against the legitimate 
share of our estates which would belong to my daughter Dona 

XXII. As I am obliged to dower Dona Catalina and Dona 
Juana, the legitimate daughters of myself and my wife, the 
said marquesa, I direct that, in discharge of this obligation 
as best I can, each of them shall receive fifty thousand ducats, 
making one hundred thousand for both; for which purpose I 
transfer this sum irrevocably during my Hfetime to Melchor 
de Mojica, my administrator and secretary, who is here present 
and accepts the same in my name. These hundred thousand 
ducats may be taken from the joint estate of the marquesa 
my wife, and mine, and charged against the share her legiti- 
mate daughters would have of our estate. Failing the neces- 
sary sum, at the time of my death, to pay these hundred 
thousand ducats, I desire that whatever is wanting shall be 

Last Will and Testament 87 

paid by my son and successor, Don Martin, or whatever other 
successor, by setting apart from my estate fifteen thousand 
ducats yearly, until the full amount of one hundred thousand 
ducats be made up, as said above. 

I, Melchor de Mojica accept and receive the said dower of 
one hundred thousand ducats in the name of the said ladies. 
Dona Catalina and Doha Juana, as set forth in this article, 
and, in witness and confirmation of the same, I here sign 
my name. 

Melchor de Mojica. 

XXIII. Item: I direct, and place as a charge on my suc- 
cessor, and on the income of my estate, an annual pension of 
one thousand ducats in gold to each of my natural sons, Don 
Martin and Don Luis Cortes, for their lifetime, or until each 
of them may have an income of over five thousand fnaravedis. 
I direct that these sums be paid, free from any tax of any sort, 
annually; and from this time forth I establish them as theirs, 
from the best share of my rents. I direct that my sons, Don 
Martin and Don Luis, be subject and obedient to my successor 
in everything, in which they honestly may, as to the chief and 
head of the family from which they spring, and that for no 
reason shall they disobey or fail in their respect to him, but 
shall assist and ser\'e him in everything not contrary to God 
Our Lord, or His holy religion, and Catholic Faith, or against 
their rightful king ; and I direct that should either show notori- 
ous disobedience or disrespect, such as may be proven as such, 
they shall lose the benefits and substance they receive, and 
shall be considered as strangers to my house and children. 

XXIV. Item: I direct that marriages for my daughters. 
Dona Catalina and Dona Juana. are to he arranged only upon 
the counsel, and with the approval, of the marquesa, their 
mother, and of my successor. Should either of them marry 
outside this condition, my successor shall not be obliged to 
pay anything of the dower I have provided. 

XXV. Item: I direct that Dona Catalina Pizarro, my 
daughter by Leonor Pizarro, wife of Juan de Salcedo, a citizen 
of Mexico, be given the full amount of the income and increase 
of the cows, mares, and ewes which I gave her when she first 

SS Letters of Cortes 

came to the kinp[dom of Mexico, together with the income 
from the town of Chinantla, and all else that I assigned for her 
marriage dower and delivered to the said Juan de Salcedo, 
husband of Dofta Leonor Pizarro, her mother. And, as I 
have received from the increase on the said ranches a number 
of horses, bulls, rams, and monies, I direct that this amount 
be repaid out of my estate, to my daughter Dona Catalina, 
according to the account presented by the said Juan de 
Salcedo, at the price they were worth when I received them. 
I confess, now, that two receipts, made to me by Hernando 
de Saavedra, and Gil Gonzale de Benevides, for a certain 
amount in gold for some cows which I sold them at four differ- 
ent times, as will appear from the said receipts, really belong 
to the estate and increase of my daughter Dona Catalina, 
although they are made out to me; and I therefore direct 
that they be paid to her with interest, being hers, and coming 
from her estate. The amounts of the said receipts are two 
thousand pesos of good gold for the one, and two thousand 
seven hundred and fifty for the other. 

XXVI. Item: I acknowledge another receipt from Fran- 
cisco de Villegas, citizen of Mexico, given me for two thousand 
pesos in gold for some cows, of which, according to Juan de 
Salcedo's statement, he only owes one thousand, as he did not 
receive the full number of cows sold to him, which coming 
also from the property of my daughter. Dona Catalina, I order 
be paid to her. 

XXVII. Item: I also acknowledge another receipt, of 
four hundred pesos, made me by Bernardino del Castillo, 
for mares, likewise coming from the property of my daughter. 
Dona Catalina; I order that this be paid to her. 

XXVIII. Item: I acknowledge another receipt, for two 
thousand four hundred pesos in gold, given me by Alonzo 
Ddvalos, for twelve mares and six fillies, coming from the 
property of my daughter, Doiia Catalina; I order that this be 
paid to her. 

XXIX. Item: I declare that all the cows and flocks at 
Matalango belong to my daughter. Dona Catalina, and to 
the said Leonor Pizarro, besides all the mares and colts at 
Taltizapan, which bear her brand of a large E on the haunch. 

Last Will and Testament 89 

XXX. Item: I declare that, of the receipt made by Gil 
Gonzale de Benevides with Hernando de Saavedra, which, 
as above said, belongs to my daughter. Dona Catalina, three 
hundred and fifty castellanos in gold have been paid, which I 
received in four horses which I possess; I order that this be 
paid to the said Dona Catalina. 

XXXI. Item: I declare that I gave a final quittance to 
the said Juan de Salcedo, citizen of Mexico, husband of the 
said Leonor Pizarro, stating that I gave and give it him in full 
receipt for all accounts he had with the estate and goods of 
Dona Catalina Pizarro, my daughter, which were delivered to 
him. I say that I gave the said final quittance, notwith- 
standing I was not disposed to give it without the accounts 
and payments, at the instance and entreaty of the said Juan 
de Salcedo, to save him the necessity of rendering the said 
accounts during my absence; for which he promised, under 
oath, that, on my return from my journey, he would present 
them in full, without fraud nor taking anything from the said 
Dona Catalina; and this he did, with Andres de Tapia present 
as witness. 

XXXII. Item: I direct that, when it may please Our 
Lord that the said Dona Catalina, my daughter, should marry, 
she shall do so on the counsel, and with the consent of my 
successor, whom I beg to take special care to provide that his 
sister Catalina marries as becomes the honour of our house 
and her own. 

XXXIII. Item: I direct that my natural daughters, 
Dona Leonor and Dona Maria, shall receive as dowries, each, 
ten thousand ducats from my estate, recommending them to 
marry with the counsel and consent of my said successor, whom 
I charge as in the former article touching his sister. Dona 
Catalina. Should either or both die before marrying, or 
desire to enter the religious life, let them receive for their 
support and expenses sixty thousand maravedis yearly; the 
remainder reverting to my son and successor Don Martin, 
and those who follow him. 

XXXIV. Item: I direct that, as some persons have 
served on my farming estates, and I do not know whether 
they have been paid, the conditions agreed upon with me or 

9© Letters of Cortes 

my administrators at the time of their engagement shall be 
ascertained, and that they be paid as the books of the ad- 
ministration show to be just, without wearying them with 
more controversy than is required to discover the truth. 
This to be done on the conscience of my successor and exe- 
cutors, without their being obliged to give any other account 
than that they have paid them. 

XXXV\ Item: I direct that all debts as shall appear from 
my account books, owing to people in my ser\'ice, both here 
in Spain and in New Spain, shall be paid in accordance with 
the conditions established when they entered my service, 
and that this be done without delay or dispute. As Bernar- 
dino del Castillo was engaged in taking account of all that 
the licenciate Don Juan Altamirano has furnished and sent 
me, I direct that the statement of the said licenciate be 

XXXVI. Item: I direct that all my debts of wiiatever 
nature public and private, when shewn to be justly mine, be 
paid without delay or process of law, but quickly and without 
incurring expense. As I may have debts for which I have no 
written proof, I direct that all such, if shewn to be mine, even 
without writing, be paid without process of law, up to the 
amount of one hundred pesos in good money. 

XXXVII. Item: I say that I have spent large sums of 
money in New Spain and its provinces, which I conquered 
and brought under the dominion of the royal crown of Castile, 
both in the conquest, as well as in the armadas which I sent 
elsewhere, such as those I sent to Amaluco (Molucca Island), 
under the captain Alvaro de Saavedra, and one sent to Hibu- 
eras, with settlers commanded by Geronimo Prima, and 
another to the same province of Hibueras, of which Francisco 
de las Casas was captain. All were sent by order of our lord 
the Emperor, as may be seen from his royal instructions and 
signature, and as His Majesty, to discharge his royal conscience, 
and as a most Christian prince, sent me his royal cedilla, which 
is among the papers in possession of the licenciate Juan Alta- 
mirano, and an order of his royal council, authorised an 
account to be made with me of all I have spent in the said 
conquests and armadas, I direct that this account be made 

Last Will and Testament 91 

and presented to His Majesty, since he was pleased to order 
payment to me. This sum I wish and direct to go to my 
heir, the said Don Martin Cortes, my son and successor in 
my house and estate, and to the successors who shall follow 

XXXVIII. Item: I direct that the said Don Martin, my 
son, (and those who may succeed), shall have the following 
upon his conscience: His Majesty granted me the towns, 
places, and lands of the estate I have and own in New Spain, 
with all the rents, rights, tributes, and contributions belonging 
to His Majesty, exactly as the former rulers used to receive 
them before the conquest. I have used all diligence to verify 
the said rents, tributes, rights, and contributions which those 
rulers enjoyed, and I was careful to continue the former masters 
where such tributes and rents are usually paid, in agreement 
with whom I have collected the said rents and tributes until 
today. I direct that, if it shall at any time appear that I was 
badly informed as to the above, and have taken anything not 
belonging to me, of which I was until today unaware, thinking 
I took my rights, it shall be rectified. 

XXXIX. Item: as there have been many doubts and 
opinions as to whether it is permitted with a good conscience 
to hold the natives as slaves, whether captives of war or by 
purchase, and up till now this has not been determined, I 
direct my son and successor Don Martin, and those who may 
follow him, to use all diligence to settle this point for the 
peace of my conscience and their own. 

XL. Item: I direct that, as in some places on my estates 
pieces of ground have been taken for orchards, vineyards, 
cotton-fieldsjand other purpose, it must be ascertained whether 
such lands belonged to the natives of those towns, and, if so, I 
order that they be restored, with all such profits their owners 
might have derived from them, compensating, and receiving 
in total, discharge of all the rents and tributes which they 
were obliged to pay for them; and, in the case of Bernardino 
del Castillo, my servant, to whom, in past years, I gave a piece 
of land, situated on the outskirts of Coyoacan, on which he 
built a sugar mill, I order that this be done should it appear 
that the land belongs to third parties. 

92 Letters of Cortes 

XLI. Item: I direct that, as I have received, in addition 
to the tributes paid me by vassals, other services both personal 
and real, and as on this point also opinions differ as to whether 
such maybe accepted with a good conscience, this matter shall 
be investigated, and, if it appears that I have received more 
of such services than belonged to me, those natives shall be 
paid and indemnified in all that it shall appear they may justly 

XLII. Item: I direct that all my account books be 
examined, especially a large one in possession of Francisco 
de Santa Cruz, which my secretary and scrivener Juan de 
Rivera began, but which passed to the said Francisco de Santa 
Cruz, who keeps my said books. I order that all debts found 
therein, due to all persons whatsoever shall be paid, and like- 
wise that all debts due to me be collected; and, I order that 
the said Francisco de Santa Cruz render his accounts for 
the time he has had charge of my business, and everything be 
settled with him, and that all on our side and the other be paid. 

XLIII. Item: I say that, inasmuch as I loaned Bernar- 
dino del Castillo at the time of his marriage one thousand 
castellanos in gold and silver, besides six hundred more in 
furnishings for the shop next to the clock tower, as will appear 
from a receipt signed with his name, and deposited with the 
licenciate Juan Altamirano, he shall be credited with what I 
owe him for the time of his sendee which may be determined 
by a receipt signed by me when I left Coyoacan, and the 
remainder shall go to my successor. 

XLIV. Item: I direct that, for as long as Dona Elvira 
de Hermosa, daughter of Luis de Hermosa, citizen of Avila, 
who is now maid to the marquesa, my wife, shall remain in the 
ser\'ice of any of my daughters or of the wife of Don Martin, 
she shall be paid twenty thousand maravedis annually; and 
should she desire to become a nun, or to live unmarried in 
this city, she shall be paid from my estate two hundred 
thousand maravedis besides giving her the twenty thousand 
maravedis annually. 

XLV. Item: I direct that, for as long as my cousin Cecilia 
Vazquez Altamirano may desire to remain -^ith the mar- 
quesa, my wife, or with any of my daughters, or the wife of 

Last Will and Testament 93 

Don Martin, she shall enjoy the same respect I have ever 
shown her; and I desire that, wherever she may choose to live, 
one thousand maravedis shall be surely and regularly paid 
her annually from my estate. 

XLVI. Item: I direct that two hundred thousand mara- 
vedis be paid from my estate to each of the two daughters of 
the administrator, Juan Altamirano, my cousin, for their 
dowry, and marriage portion. 

XLVII. Item: I direct that, for as long as the said Juan 
Altamirano may wish to retain the charge of the administra- 
tion in my household, this shall be allowed him, and, with the 
profit assigned him by my cedula, shall be continued to him 
for as long as he may wish. 

XLVIII. Item: I direct that three hundred thousand 
maravedis be paid to Dona Beatriz, and Dona Luisa, her 
sister, daughters of the marquesa my wife, to enable them 
to marry, two hundred thousand to the said Dona Luisa and 
to the said Dona Beatriz one hundred thousand maj-avedis. 

XLIX. Item: I direct that, if Maria de Torres, now 
duenna with the marquesa, should wish to remain in her 
service, or in that of any of my daughters, or the wife of 
my son and successor, she be paid annually fifteen thousand 
maravedis, and should she want something for herself, she 
shall be given one hundred thousand whenever she wishes, 
in recognition of her past services, without subtracting any 
sums she may have received in that time, nor the fifteen 
thousand which I provide for the time she shall continue in 

L. Item: I say that, as in the year 1542, while I was in 
Barcelona, Gonzalo Diaz my equerry was short forty ducats 
of my money which was placed in his hands, I ordered this 
amount to be deducted from his pay, and, although he sus- 
tained no harm, I now pardon him, and direct that no deduc- 
tion of this sum be made in his accounts, and if any has already 
been made to cancel it, and pay him in full; besides which, 
I leave him as a mark of favour one hundred ducats in gold, 
to be paid him from my estate. 

LI. Item: I direct that, although in the year 1544 my 
groom of the chambers gave me his note for forty-four 

94 Letters of Cortes 

thousand five hundred and twenty maravedis for the value of 
certain pieces of silver for which he could not account when 
he was my plate-butler, for which he therefore owed me, 
nevertheless in consideration of his service, I forgive him 
that obligation, and pardon him, and he shall receive back 
his note, and be paid twenty ducats in gold from my estate. 

LII. Item: I direct that, besides paying Geronimo de 
Andrada what is owing on his account he be given from my 
estate thirty ducats in gold, which I leave him in recognition 
of his services. 

LIII. Item: I say inasmuch as there is a suit with the 
wife and heirs of the licenciate Nunez, member of the council, 
who was my solicitor, concermng certain of our accounts, 
which showed him my debtor for large sums, and although I 
am well informed, and have a clear conscience, nor on my side 
has this suit been sustained through malice, but only to have 
justice, that, nevertheless I direct, if the widow and heirs 
of the licenciate Nunez wish to settle our suit amiably, that 
two accountants be chosen to act for them with two of mine, 
to whom all necessary papers shall be given, and whose de- 
cision shall be accepted as final without other legal action. 
Should they not so agree, let the suit go on its ordinary 
course, as my only wish is to know the truth, and have justice 
done. Whatever sums may result from the suit, shall be 
distributed as is provided in a memorandum in the hands 
of my secretary, Melchor de Mojica; and the same shall be 
done with the sums received from the suit now pending with 
Francisco de Arteaga Martinez. 

LIV. Item: I direct that thirty thousand maravedis be 
given as a marriage portion to a girl who is, and has been 
since childhood, a servant in my household and who is said 
to be a child of one Francisco Barco, born in Tehuantepec. 

LV. Item: I direct that a suit of mourning, such as I 
have ordered to be given my servants, shall be furnished to 
Juan de Quintanilla, who came from Valladolid to this city 
of Seville to assist and treat me during my illness, and is 
present at my death. In addition, I leave him in recognition 
of his services fifty ducats in gold from my estate. 

LVI. Item: I direct that, besides paying what is owing 

Last Will and Testament 95 

to my page, Pedro de Astorga, he shall be given from my 
estate thirty ducats in gold, which I leav^e him in recognition 
of his services, during my illness; and, in consideration of this, 
I charge and direct my son and successor, the said Don Martin, 
to retain him in his household and service in the position I 
now have him. 

LVII. Item: I charge and direct the said Don Martin 
my son and successor, to retain in his household and service, 
my valet Antonio Galvarro, as I have him, feeling confident 
that he will prove a good and loyal servant to him, as he has 
been during the time he has served me. 

LVIII. Item: I direct that Diego Gonzalez, citizen of 
Medellin, at present living in Seville, shall receive a robe and 
a cloak of black cloth, some stockings, a doublet, and a cap; 
besides this twenty ducats in gold, all of which I leave him 
because of the devotion he has shown, and does show, to my 

LXIX. Item: I charge and direct the said Don Martin, 
my son and successor, to always retain my accountant Melchor 
de Mojica in his service, for as he has so well and faithfully 
served me during the short time he has been here in my house- 
hold, that I am confident he will henceforward give good ser- 
vice and counsel to my son Don Martin in the affairs and 
matters which he has handled with me. I charge and direct 
the said Melchor de Mojica to do this, for I place this con- 
fidence in him, and I wish and direct that he continue to hold 
the charge and position he does at present, for such time as he 
can, and the marques may desire. 

LX. Item: I direct that the hospital of Amor de Dios 
be paid the alms which the accounts of Don Juan Galiano 
may show are owing, as I have done each month since I have 
been in Seville; besides which I order one hundred ducats in 
gold to be paid from my estate. 

XLI. Item: I direct that the accounts of Master Vicente 
(for works executed in my house and room) be inspected, and 
paid, after deducting such sums as he has alread}"- received. 

LXII. For as much as Don Martin Cortes, my son and 
my wife's, the said Marquesa Dona Juana de Zufiiga, who is 
my successor, is less than twenty-five years old, and more 

96 Letters of Cortes 

than fifteen, I desire, and it is my will, that he remain under 
control of the guardianship and care of such tutors and ad- 
ministrators as I herein name for my children, until they at- 
tain the age of twenty-fiv'e years completed. During the 
interim, let him not withdraw from or evade the guardianship 
and control, so that, until he complete the said age, as I have 
herein established, his property and estate may be the more 
advantageously increased, and administered, and all that I 
direct and dispose by this testament may be the better and 
more quickly complied with. Thus from the direction and 
administration of the properties of my son, the said Don 
Martin, as well as for the control and care of the persons and 
goods of my legitimate daughters, Doiia Maria, Dona Catalina, 
and Dona Juana, I name and appoint for tutors and guardians, 
the most illustrious gentlemen, Don Juan Alonso de Guzman, 
Duke of Medina Sidonia; Don Pedro Alvare Osorio, Marques 
de Astorga; and Don Pedro de Arellano, Count de Aguilar. 
I entreat the same to graciously accept the said tutelage and 
guardianship, and, in accepting and receiving it, they may 
remember and respect what I beg and entreat them, for these 
my said children are of their blood and lineage, by protecting 
whom they do but fufill their duty as gentlemen, and profit 
their own lineage and quality. In recognition of their services 
and of their rights conformably to the law to be recompensed 
from my estate for the said tutelage and guardianship, I direct 
that, for each year during which their lordships exercise their 
functions, they shall receive fifty marks of silver, which I 
entreat them to agree to, and to accept in consideration of the 
causes and reasons above mentioned. I direct that my son and 
successor, the said Don Martin, shall, until he has completed 
his twenty-fifth year, receive twelve thousand ducats yearly 
for his support, and that of his servants. The remainder 
of my income may thus more fully and quickly provide for 
all that I have ordered and directed in this my testament. 
As the towns, properties, engineering works, mines, and 
other works belonging to my estate, to which, after my 
death, the said Don Martin, my son, will succeed, are divided 
and scattered through different provinces of New Spain, distant 
one from another, it is necessary that I, as one who knows 

Last Will and Testament 97 

by experience what is necessary, should indicate persons capa- 
ble of carrying on the administration. Hence I beg and en- 
treat the said gentlemen, tutors, and guardians to approve the 
appointments and selections of persons which I shall leave, 
drawn up and signed with my name; for I am positive that 
the said haciendas will be directed and administered to the 
best advantage, and their lordships relieved of the labour and 
responsibility of selecting persons for this purpose. 

LXIII. Moreover, I leave and name as my successor over 
my household and estate, Don Martin Cortes, my son by the 
Marquesa Dona Juana de Zuniga my wife, and after him his 
descendants and other persons named in the institution of 
my entail, which I institute by the authority of the emperor 
and king our Lord, according to, and by the form, and with 
the conditions, and all else contained in the said act of institu- 
tion. Further, if it be necessary, I do now renew the insti- 
tution of the said entail in the said Don Martin, my son, in 
the manner above set forth, and by the said authority and 
licence which I possess, and I leave as my universal heir the 
said Don Martin, my son, successor to all my properties, goods, 
landed estates, and rights, and whatever else I may possess 
outside the said entail; and I leave as my heirs the above 
mentioned Dona Maria, Dona Catalina, and Dona Juana, my 
legitimate daughters by the said marquesa my wife, for 
what I leave them as their rightful dowries, ordering that 
they content themselves therewith, without pretending to 
other rights or claims of any sort against my estate, on the 
ground of their legitimacy. 

LXIV. To cover all expenses of this my testament, and to 
fulfil its provisions, I name and appoint as my executors in 
Spain the most illustrious lords, Duke of Medina Sidonia, 
Marques de Astorga, and Count de Aguilar, to all three of 
whom jointly, and to each singly, I give full powers to use by 
their authority whatever sums from my estate are required 
to provide for, and carry into effect, all the provisions of this 
my testament. And, for all that touches the administration 
in New Spain and those provinces, I name and appoint as my 
executors, the Marquesa Dona Juana de Zuniga, my wife, 
and the lord bishop of Mexico, Fray Juan de Zimiarraga, and 

VOL. I.— 7 

qS Letters of Cortes 

Father Domingo de Betanzos, of the Order of St. Dominic, 
and the licenciate Juan de Altamirano, all at this present time 
in New Spain. And, I revoke every and all other testaments 
which I may have made and delivered, and I desire, and it is 
my will, that none be executed other than this present writing; 
likewise I revoke whatsoever codicil or codicils I may have 
made and delivered either in writing or by word of mouth in 
the past. And this being seen and read in my presence with 
all that it contains, I sign it with my name, by my hand on 
each of its pages which are in all ten, all of which signatures I 
have written in the presence of the licenciate Infante. 

Done at Seville on the eleventh day of the month of Octo- 
ber, the year from the birth of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus 
Christ, one thousand five hundred and forty seven. 

Item: I say that, as, in one article of this my will, I have 
disposed and ordered that the four thousand diicats, from 
the rent of the shops and btdldings which I have in Mexico, 
should, after the works on the said hospital, monastery, and 
college I have ordered founded be entirely devoted to the 
endowment, and property of the said college, monastery, and 
hospital to which I refer, should it at any time happen that 
the said shops and buildings should produce less than this 
sum of four thousand ducats, and my will and intention be 
defeated, I order that in such a year of shortage, my successor 
shall complete the amount from his estate, so that the said 
four thousand dticats may be paid in full without any diminu- 
tion. This page is added to the other ten, done and signed 
on the same date. The Marques del Valle. Witness by his 
lordship's command, the licenciate Infante. 

By his lordship's command, 

Melchor Mojica. 




CONCERNING the importance of the Five Letters of 
Relation of Hernando Cortes, which are now pubHshed 
altogether in an English translation for the first time, 
it may be permitted to quote a passage from the historian 
Dr. Robertson, whose part in the discovery of the first and 
fifth letters, here presented, was such as to give singular interest 
and value to his opinion. 

"Our knowledge of the events which happened in the con- 
quest of New Spain is derived from sources of information 
more original and more authentic than that of any transaction 
in the history of America. 

"The letters of Cortes to the Emperor Charles V. are an 
historical monument, not only first in order of time, but of 
the greatest authenticity and value." 

Dr. Robertson's appreciation was shared by his contem- 
poraries, and has been confirmed by subsequent historians, 
who have drawn from the letters, as from an original source, 
many of their important facts, have appealed to them for 
confirmation of information procured from other sources, 
and have used them as a very touchstone of truth, in 
accepting or rejecting statements made by other early writers, 
even when these latter were eye-witnesses of the events they 

From the beginning, Cortes adopted the plan of reporting 
faithfully and minutely to the Emperor, each incident, its 
causes and its consequences, and of recording his impressions 
of all that he saw in his strange surroundings, with the purpose 
of putting before his sovereign an accurate and complete 
picture of the momentous events then unrolling in the New 
World ; and he has done this with perfect frankness and great 
simplicity, in letters which are minute but not wearisome, 


I02 Letters of Cortes 

nor wanting in a certain literary excellence. His corre- 
spondence was voluminous, but, amongst all the others, both 
for the importance of the events recorded, as well as for their 
volume, the five letters or "relations" (Relaciones) as they are 
called, in winch he recounts all that happened from the date 
of his sailing from Cuba in 1519, till his return from the ex- 
pedition into Yucatan in 1526, are those which the English 
historian justly described as "an historical monument of the 
greatest authenticity and value." 

The first of these letters has never been found, and by some is 
believed, perhaps to have been either the one suppressed by 
the Council for the Indies at the instance of Panfilo de Nar- 
vaez, or the one taken by Juan de Florez from Alonzo de 
Avila, and thus prevented from reaching the Emperor. It 
bore the date of July 10, 1519, and left Vera Cruz on the 
1 6th of that month with the two envoys, Alonzo Hernandez 
Puertocarrero and Francisco de Montejo. This letter was in 
duplicate, as was likewise the letter of the magistrates of the 
newly founded colony, which was shown to Cortes before it 
was sent. Bernal Diaz del Castello, who was one of the signers 
of the joint letter, says that Cortes had omitted from his own 
letter the account of the expeditions of Francesco Hernandez 
de Cordoba, and of Juan de Grijalba. The letter of Cortes and 
that of the magistrates confirmed one another, as they were 
intended to do, and, according to Bernal Diaz, that of the 
magistrates was the more detailed of the two; hence it is, 
historically, the more valuable. The only important events 
which had happened up to that date were the change in the 
character and objects of the expedition, and the founding of 
Vera Cruz, and on these points Cortes and the magistrates 
were in perfect accord. 

The search for this missing letter having been given up in 
despair, it remained for the perspicacity of Dr. Robertson to 
divine, that, as the Emperor was about leaving Spain for 
Germany at the time the envoys from Vera Cruz arrived with 
the letters, they might still be found in some of the Imperial 
archives, and he accordingly undertook a search, for which 
all necessary facilities were obtained by the British Ambas- 
sador in Vienna. This was crowned with a dual success, in 

Bibliographical Note 103 

that a certified copy by a notary public of the letter of 
the magistrates of Vera Cruz was discovered and, at the 
same time, the Fifth Letter of the Relaciones was also 

The letter of the magistrates of Vera Cruz supplies the place 
of the still missing First Letter of Cortes and serves to complete 
the series of five Relaciones. It was first published in the 
Coleccion de Documentos Ineditos para la Historia de Espana 
of Navarrete, Salva y Baranda, in 1844. Senor Alaman 
reproduced it in the first volume of his Disertaciones sobre la 
Historia de la Republica Mexicana. 

The Second Letter was dated from Segura de la Frontera, 
October 30, 1520. It contained the first account ever written 
of the wonders of Mexico and the adventures of the Spanish 
conquerors in the newly discovered countries, and awakened 
the liveliest interest in Spain, where it was first published by 
Juan Cronberger, a celebrated German printer in Seville, 
November 8, 1522. It was again printed the following year 
by another German, George Coci, in Saragossa. 

The Third Letter was dated from Coyohuacan, May 15, 1522, 
and was likewise first printed in Seville by the same Juan 
Cronberger, March 30, 1523. 

The Fourth Letter was dated from the city of Temixtitan 
(Mexico), October 15, 1524, and was first published in Toledo 
by Gaspar de Avila, and again in Saragossa, July 8, 

All of these editions are folios in gothic lettering and are 
now extremely rare. 

The Second, Third, and Fourth Letters, which were the only 
ones known until Dr. Robertson's fortunate discovery com- 
pleted the series, have been translated into Latin, French, 
Italian, English, and German, at various times. 

Of the Second and Third Letters a Latin translation made 
by Pietro Savorgnani of Forli, secretary to the bishop of 
Vienne (Dauphine), was dedicated to Pope Clement VII. and 
first published in Nuremberg in 1524. This translation was 
reproduced in the work entitled: De Insulis nuper inventis, 
which first appeared at Cologne in 1532 and was afterwards 
included in the Novus Orbis of Simon Grineo, of which one 

104 Letters of Cortes 

edition was issued at Basle in 1555 and another at Rotterdam 
in i6i6. 

Nicholas Liburno (or Liburnio) translated the Latin text 
of Savorgnani into Italian, publishing his work in Venice in 
1524. This Italian translation was again published by 
Ramusio in the third volume of his work, Delle Navigationi 
et Viaggi, in Venice (edition of 1606). 

A German translation of two of the letters was made by 
Xysto Betuleio and Andrea Diethero and pubHshed in Augs- 
burg in 1550. (Garcia Icazbalceta, Documenios, vol. i., 
p. xxxvi.) 

Another German edition was published in Heidelberg in 1779. 

The first Spanish edition of the Second, Third, and Fourth 
Letters was published by Andres Gonzalez de Barcia in the 
first volume of his work entitled Historiadores Primitivos 
de las Indias Occidentales, Madrid, 1749. 

In 1770, Archbishop Lorenzana of Mexico, afterwards 
Cardinal Archbishop of Toledo, published the Second, Third, 
and Fourth Letters, together with other documents and his 
commentaries, under the title of Historia de Nueva Espaiia, 
and of this work an indifferent second edition was issued in 
New York by INIanuel del Mar in 1828. 

Mr. George Folsom, secretary of the New York Historical 
Society, translated Archbishop Lorenzana's text into English 
in 1843. 

The Vicomte de Flavigni dedicated to the Marquise de 
Polignac a very free translation of the three letters then 
known, in a book published in Paris about 1778 (there is no 
date given), entitled Correspoiidance de Fernand Cortes avec 
VEmpereur Charles V. sur la conquet du Mexique: reprinted 
in Switzerland, 1779. Such liberties were taken with the 
Spanish text that Mr. Folsom, in his notice of this work, 
rightly calls it rather a paraphrase than a translation. 

The Fifth Letter, which was discovered in Codex CXX. of the 
Imperial Library in Vienna, has no date, but a codex of the 
sixteenth century in the National Library in the City of 
Mexico bears the followdng: De la cibdad de Temixtitan desta 
Nu£va Espana, a 3 del mes de Seiiembre, ano del nascimiento de 
ntiestro Senor e Salvador Jesucristo de 1526. 

Bibliographical Note 105 

Three editions of the complete series of five Relaciones have 
been published in Spanish: one is found in the first volume 
of Historiadores Primitivos de Indias of Don Enrique de Ve- 
dia, which is contained in Rivadeneyra's Bihlioteca de Autores 
Espanoles, Madrid, 1877 ; another appears in the first volume of 
the Biblioteca Historica de la Iberia, and the third is the ad- 
mirable collection of the learned Don Pascual Gayangos of 
the Spanish Academy, Cartas y Relaciones de Her nan Cortes 
al Emperador Carlos V., published in Paris in 1866. The 
same author made an English translation of the Fifth Letter, 
which appeared in a single volume of the Hakluyt Society's 
publications in 1868. 

A French translation of the five letters was published by 
Desird Charnay in Paris in 1896 under the title of Lettres de 
Fernand Cortes a Charles Quint. 

In preparing this present edition, a careful comparison has 
been made of the various texts known, and, while idiomatic 
differences have imposed certain rearrangements of form, 
particularly in the matter of punctuation, and the suppres- 
sion of many cumbersome repetitions, it has been sought 
to leave to the letters their unique characteristics, due to 
the personality of their author, and to the temper of their 

The Spanish language was not yet the strong and stately 
vehicle of thought into which it was afterward shaped by gen- 
erations of scholars, whose writings not only brought the Cas- 
tilian tongue to a superlative degree of purity and perfection, 
but also conspicuously enriched the universal patrimony of 
literature. Fernando Cortes had but scanty learning, and 
the conditions under which he wrote were little conducive to 
the cultivation of literary style, but the absence of adorn- 
ment, the precision of fact, and forceful terseness of expression 
furnish his compositions with singular merit. The restraint 
and self-control of which he was master appear in the equal 
and passionless style of his writings; for he seems neither ex- 
alted by success nor cast down by misfortunes, both of which 
he describes with calm simplicity in language which is both 
natural and fluent. Perhaps nowhere does the real superiority 
and inherent strength of his character more plainly appear 

io6 Letters of Cortes 

than in those passages where he writes of the intrigues 
and detractions of his enemies, men whose ambitions were 
selfish and whose characters were vulgar and unscrupulous. 
Judged by his letters alone, Cortes must be ranked high 
amongst the Spanish-American discoverers and conquerors. 
His rudely honest contemporary and faithful follower Bernal 
Diaz del Castillo resented — and perhaps not unnaturally 
— the scanty mention of the other officers and men of the 
expedition, and, occasionally, in the course of his gossipy 
chronicle, he breaks into acrimony over what seems to him 
a cheating of others of their dues. 

On the whole, however, Cortes was wise to eschew per- 
sonalities in his reports, for no distribution of praise would 
have satisfied his followers, and he would have merely risked 
wearying the Emperor with a useless repetition of meaning- 
less names. Cortes cannot be fairly reproached with self- 
laudation; he evidently knew the value also of occasional 
self-effacement, and he never loses sight of the high dual 
mission with which he felt himself invested, — the spreading 
of the Faith and the extension of the Spanish sovereignty; 
while the glory of victory is invariably ascribed to divine pro- 
tection or the inter\'ention of the saints, rather than to his 
own courage or ability, and the fruits of his victories were 
laid at the feet of his sovereign. 

f The notes with which the present edition is supplied have 
been carefully compiled from the best authorities, ancient 
and modem. Among these authorities, the soldier chroniclers 
contemporary with Cortes, and the Spanish priests in America 
at the same early period, take the first rank, and some brief 
notice of the character of these men, the circumstances under 
which, and the motives for which, they wrote may be of 
service in enabling the reader to estimate their testimony at 
its just historical worth. 

It should always, however, be borne in mind that the 
letters of Cortes have the unique and superlative merit of 
having been composed on the spot from day to day, in the 
midst of the events in which their writer was playing the 
chief part, and that they were destined for the Emperor alone, 
hence misstatements of fact could only result from an inten- 

Bibliographical Note 107 

tion to deceive the Sovereign. The astuteness of Cortes would 
seem to exclude the adoption of a short-sighted policy, which 
would have foredoomed him to exposure and failure, and, 
though the story of his dealings with Diego Velasquez, Pan- 
filo de Narvaez, and the other Spanish officials with whom he 
came in conflict, is told from his own point of view, the version 
he gives cannot be essentially untrue in any important par- 
ticular. His story of the conquest from 151 9 till 1527 is thus 
told almost in the form of a diary, written at different times 
and places, under varying circumstances of fortune, and as it 
was written, so do we now read it. 

The other conquerors, and the priests, wrote or supplied 
material to others several years after the events they chroni- 
cled, and under the influence of different motives, either 
avowed or dissembled. These latter on some points give 
to their histories the bias of special pleading, besides which, 
in many instances, their manuscripts reached responsible 
hands only after many vicissitudes, and, at times, only in 
copies or translations, which may suggest reasonable doubts 
of their entire authenticity. Whenever, therefore, a conflict 
of testimony is found concerning any event described by 
Cortes, modern historians have almost invariably decided 
that his statements, on all points of which he had personal 
knowledge, should be held to outweigh those of other writers 
unless it conclusively appears that his conscious intention was 
to mislead the Emperor. 

The death of Montezuma is one of the few cases in which 
it seems the decision should be against Cortes. With great 
and perfect frankness he admits the murder of Quauhpopoca, 
the torture and subsequent murder of Quauhtemoczin, and 
he owns to a somewhat extensive catalogue of indefensible 
crimes, but for Montezuma's death he refuses responsibility. 
Yet, whether we consider the unanimous testimony as to the 
trifling character of the Emperor's wound, the useless embar- 
rassment his presence had become, the imprudence of leaving 
him free in the capital, or the impossibility of carrying him cap- 
tive out of it, and finally the contemporary Mexican versions 
of his death, all the circumstances certainly point to the conclu- 
sion that the royal captive died by the will of his conqueror. 

io8 Letters of Cortes 



The Historia Getieral de las Indias and the Cronica de la 
Conqnista de Nueva-Espana, which were published in Sara- 
gossa, 1552, were at first received with the greatest favour 
by the public, and other editions as well as translations into 
Italian and French rapidly followed. This success, however, 
was short-lived, as Gomara's facts and appreciations were 
promptly impugned, first by Bernal Diaz del Castillo, who, 
in publishing his book, called it The True History of the 
Conquest, in contradistinction to Gomara's false and fanci- 
ful one. 

In 1553 t^6 Spanish Government took steps to suppress 
the work, and withdraw it from circulation, imposing a fine 
of 200,000 maravedis upon any one who should print or sell 
it in the future. This rigid prohibition was not revoked until 
1727. Concerning Gomara's birth and antecedents, nothing 
is known, and, likewise, neither the date nor place of his death 
is recorded: "He came like water and like wind he went." 
He is said to have held the Chair of Rhetoric at the University 
of Alcala, and afterwards to have passed several years in 
Rome. In 1540 he entered the service of Fernando Cortes, 
then Marques del Valle, and recently returned to Spain. Dr. 
Robertson surmises that he then began his historical work, 
under the inspiration, if not at the dictation, of his patron, 
and this would seem to be likely. He is undoubtedly the 
apologist of Cortes, and, although the latter was dead some 
years when the work was published, the first part is 
dedicated to the Emperor, and the second to Don Martin 
Cortes, second Marques del Valle. 

But, all reservations admitted, the work of Gomara il- 
lustrates a most important and interesting period of history, 
and, if he was constrained to treat his hero leniently, he 
nevertheless had access to a mass of original information, 
by which he profited with excellent results. His style is 
agreeable and scholarly, revealing a writer of wide culture, 
gifted with unusual knowledge of astronomy, geography, and 
history. Although he never was in America (as far as is 

Bibliographical Note 109 

recorded), he has known how to lend the realism to his de- 
scriptions which usually only an eyewitness can impart. When 
not vindicating Cortes, Gomara has every claim to be ranked 
amongst the most trustworthy of the early writers on Spanish- 
American events, and his facts and descriptions generally 
stand the test of comparison with authentic temporary records. 



Bernal Diaz was a perfect type of the military adventurer 
of his age, and first went as a private soldier to America in 
1 5 14, under the command of Pedrarias de Avila, bound for 
Darien. He next appeared in Cuba, where he was always 
ready to join any expedition of adventure which might be 
organised, and, indeed, he went on most of them, and was 
one of the few who escaped from the disastrous exploration 
conducted by Ponce de Leon on the Florida coast. He next 
joined Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba on his journey to 
Yucatan. He returned again thither the following year with 
Juan de Grijalba, from whose expedition he arrived once more 
at Cuba just in time to take service under Fernando Cortes. 
Diaz was a brave soldier, popular amongst his comrades, and 
esteemed by his commander, who some years later (in 1540), 
recommended him to the notice of the Emperor, as did like- 
wise the Viceroy Don Antonio Mendoza. 

After the conquest, he received an encomienda in Guate- 
mala, where he held the office of regidor of Santiago de los 
Caballeros, where presumably he died. And this would have 
been all there was to say about Bernal Diaz, had Francisco 
Lopez de Gomara not published his history of the conquest 
in 1552. His exaltation of Cortes, to the exclusion of other 
members of the expedition, enraged the old soldier, living 
in peaceful retirement on his estate at Chamula, and he re- 
solved that he and his fellows, who had borne the burden of 
the conquest, should likewise make good their just claims to 
a share of the credit. It was a case of "mine enemy writing 
a book," and the old veteran slashes his cultivated rival's 
polished prose in the language of the camp. Thirty years 

no Letters of Cortes 

had then elapsed since the fall of the Aztec Empire, and Bernal 
Diaz was no longer a young man ; nowhere does he say that 
he had taken notes or memoranda of what happened from 
day to day, and yet, were his chronicle a journal, its details 
could hardly be more minute, nor its statements more em- 
phatic. These were the great events of his life, worthy indeed 
to be the great events of a greater man's life, and doubtless he 
relived and rehearsed them constantly, and, being a man of 
quick and careful observation, given to pondering and re- 
flecting upon all that he saw and heard, gifted moreover with 
a good memory, it is not so strange that in the quiet of his 
last years the retired soldier could evoke the procession of 
events in their perfect order. 

He began writing in 1558, and his declared purpose was 
to correct the mistakes and misstatements of Gomara, and 
to show that not only had those under Cortes 's control shared 
in the fighting, but had likewise been called into the counsels 
of their chief. His indubitable claim upon Mexico's per- 
petual gratitude is in his introduction of the orange-tree as, 
when on Grijalba's expedition, he landed one day, and planted 
eight orange seeds, which he brought from Cuba, all of which 
grew. The Indians, seeing the strange little plants coming 
up, carefully protected them from insects and other perils, 
and from this casual little plantation the culture of the 
orange-tree spread over all iierra caliente. 

The father of Bernal Diaz was Francisco Diaz del Cas- 
tillo y Gaban, and his mother was Maria Diez Rejon; as the 
former held the post of regidor of the important town of 
Medina del Campo, he must have been a man of some family. 

The Verdedera Historia, as we have it, is incomplete, and 
was printed not from the original, nor even from a certified 
duplicate of it, but from a copy in possession of the councillor 
Ramirez de Prado. The work was undertaken by F. Remon, 
who died before its conclusion, so that it was passed on to 
Fray Gabriel Adarzo de Santander, afterwards Bishop of 

As literature, the work of Bernal Diaz ranks far below the 
letters of Cortes, and shows the writer to be without instruc- 
tion or culture. The narrative is involved, the mass of small 

Bibliographical Note 


details bewildering, while through all pierces the jealous 
determination of a wounded vanity to assert its claims to 
recognition. The stamp of perfect sincerity and frankness, 
however, is upon the whole work, and its value as an historical 
document, particularly when paralleled with the letters of 
Cortes, and the chronicles of Gomara, is superlative and 

Prescott describes Bernal Diaz as of "a poor and humble 
family," but since his father held the office of regidor this can 
hardly be exact, as such posts, especially in a town of the 
importance of Medina del Campo, were not held by the poor 
and humble. He himself claimed some kinship with Don 
Diego Velasquez. 



Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo was born of an illustrious 
family in Asturias in 1478, and passed his early years at Court 
as page to the Infante Don Juan, only son of the Catholic 
Sovereigns. He spent some years in Italy in the service of 
the King of Naples, but returned to Castile, where he became 
custodian of the crown jewels, until he was sent as royal 
inspector of the gold smelting in the Indies. After taking 
part in Pedrarias de Avila's colonising expedition to Darien, 
he returned and settled permanently in San Domingo. 

Oviedo kept in touch with the Spanish Court and returned 
several times to Spain, on one of which occasions, in 1526, he 
published his Sumario, which was dedicated to the Emperor, 
and dealt with the geography, climate, vegetation, animals, 
and tribes of the American Colonies, and which met with a 
popular reception from the public. The first volume of his 
great work, however, Historia General de las Indias, in nine- 
teen books, to which he had given years of careful labour, ap- 
peared in 1535. The entire work is divided into three parts, 
consisting in all of fifty books, and includes everything that 
had already appeared in his Sumario. The second and 
third parts are occupied with the conquest of Mexico, Peru, 
and other South American countries. Oviedo, through his 

112 Letters of Cortes 

relations witli most of the prcat personages of his day and his 
personal knowledge of the countries he describes, the events 
he portrays, and the men who figured in them, collected an 
enormous mass of data, which, however, he never properly 
classified. He is, therefore, confused and confusing, self- 
contradictory and something of a plagiarist, of whom it was 
said that, not content with drawing his information from the 
higher and more trustworthy sources, he did not scruple to 
collect the gossip of the camp from common soldiers, and the 
cancans of great mens' ante-chambers. Las Casas describes 
his work as "a wholesale fabrication, and as full of lies as 
pages." Oviedo and Las Casas were poles asunder, and the 
good bishop was so averse to the sentiments and opinions of 
his contemporary (so contrary to his own) that he could see 
no good either in him or his work. 

Despite the blemishes which mar his work, Oviedo must be 
considered an astute observer, nor can it be thought that 
he consciously or intentionally misstated facts. From the 
same events, two different observers draw opposite conclusions, 
and, in the study of historical records, their value may be 
more accurately estimated by considering the character of 
the medium through which they reach us. 

0\-iedo died at Valladolid in 1559, while on a visit to 
Spain to prepare for the publication of the remainder of his 



The Historia Universal de Nueva Espafia of Fray Bernar- 
dino de Sahagun serves as a most valuable text-book for all 
students of Mexican antiquities. 

The author was born at Sahagun, and entered the Francis- 
can Order in Salamanca, where he studied at the University. 
He went to Mexico in 1529, where he devoted his energies to 
the conversion of the Indians. He entered upon this task 
on the basis that, to convert the natives to Christianity, it 
was first necessary to know them, to understand their language, 
beliefs, and traditions, and, most of all, to be thoroughly versed 

Bibliographical Note 113 

in their ancient mythology, theology, and ritual. To acquire 
such knowledge, he lived among the natives of Texcoco for 
several years, and mastered their language and their hiero- 
glyphic writings to such an extent that his own work was 
originally written in the Mexican tongue. 

His superiors did not give unqualified approval to the 
publication of his MSS., the tendency being rather to obliterate 
as far as possible all knowledge of ancient Aztec beliefs, with 
a view to detaching the Indians entirely from the traditions 
of their ancestors. Starting thus with a tabula rasa as it were, 
it was thought that the work of conversion would progress 
more rapidly. Fortunately this mistaken conception did 
not lead to the destruction of the mass of unique information 
which Fray Bernardino had accumulated, although his 
manuscripts were widely scattered through various convents 
of the Order. 

Sahagun sent a statement of the nature and extent of his 
labours to Spain, where it attracted the attention of the 
President of the Royal Council for the Indies, at that time 
Don Juan de Ovando, who fortunately perceived its value, 
and caused the scattered manuscripts to be collected and 
restored to their owner, at the same time directing that he 
should return to Spain, and forthwith translate them into 
Spanish. Sahagun was nearly eighty years of age at this 
time, but he set diligently to work, and completed the trans- 
lation, which was placed side by side with the original, and 
the whole illustrated with an Aztec vocabulary. The entire 
work, contained in two large folio volumes, was sent to Madrid, 
from which time it completely disappeared, not to be seen 
again for more than two hundred years, when the cosmo- 
grapher Don Juan Bautista Mufioz unearthed it in the 
Franciscan Library at Tolosa in Navarre. 

The first publication, dedicated to Pope Pius VIII. and 
edited by Carlos Maria de Bustamente, deputy for the state 
of Oaxaca, appeared in Mexico at the cost of the national 
treasury. One year later Lord Kingsborough introduced it 
into the 6th volume of his magnificent work, under the 
natural impression that he was giving it for the first time to 
the public. 

VOL. I. — 8 

1 14 Letters of Cortes 



Fray Bartolomd de Las Casas, who later became Bishop of 
Chiapa, was bom at Seville in 1474. His father went with 
Columbus onhissecond voyage in 1493, and amassed sufficient 
means to provide his promising son with a university edu- 
cation at Salamanca. He was the first priest ordained in the 
new world, where he went with Ovando in 1502. The suffer- 
ings of the natives under the cruelties of the first colonists, 
and especially the system of ripartimientos and encomiendas , 
so aroused the sympathies of the young priest that he dedi- 
cated his life to their defence, and was the first to bear the 
glorious title of Protector-General of the Indians, which 
Cardinal Ximenez de Cisneros, regent in the absence of Charles 
v., conferred upon him. He was indefatigable in his crusade 
and not always discreet. After the failure of the native 
colony entrusted to him, he retired to a Dominican con- 
vent (which Order he entered) and devoted himself during 
many years to various compositions in vindication of the 
Indians and their violated rights. He enlisted his brethren 
of the Order in his apostolate, and never during his long and 
eventful life flagged in his zeal for the noble end he had set 
himself. After refusing the bishopric of Cuzco, the richest 
perhaps in the New World, he later accepted the poor diocese 
of Chiapa. He died in July, 1566, at the age of ninety-two, 
in the monastery of Atocha, at Madrid. 

Las Casas barely tolerated Cortes, and, having known him 
as an obscure young man of no importance, courting the 
favour of Diego Velasquez in Cuba, he could never refrain 
in later years, when extraordinary fortune had elevated him 
at his former patron's expense, from recalling the humble 
origin and many doubtful transactions of the great Con- 
queror's youth. Indeed he treats Cortes throughout as a 
mere lucky adventurer. Prescott says of him that he had 
the virtues and faults of a reformer, being inspired by a great 
and glorious idea which "urged him to lift the voice of rebuke 
in the presence of princes, to brave the menaces of an 
infuriated populace, to cross seas, traverse mountains and 

Bibliographical Note 115 

deserts, to incur the alienation of friends, the hostility of 
enemies, to endtire obloquy, insult, and persecution. " 

His great work, Historia General de las Indias, to which 
he devoted himself during thirty years, while still in manu- 
script, was largely drawn upon by different writers, notably 
by Herrera, who incorporated a large amount into his own 
work published in 1601. An edition of his works was pub- 
lished in five voliunes at Madrid in 1876. His Brevisima 
Relacion, widely read and translated into foreign languages, 
was a terrible indictment of his countrymen and their deal- 
ings with the natives. The integrity of his character, the 
purity of his motives, and his apostolic virtues command 
admiration, and, though his intemperate zeal in the cause he 
championed troubled the serenity of his appreciations as an 
historian, his statement of facts may be invariably trusted, and 
his record of contemporary events is of unquestionable value. 



Toribio de Benevente is best known by his Indian name 
(which he himself adopted) of Motolinia, meaning the "poor 
man" (equivalent of the Poverello which was St. Francis's 
dearest title). He was one of twelve Franciscans who first 
came to Mexico in response to the request of Cortes, at the 
close of the conquest (1523). He travelled from Mexico to 
Guatemala and Nicaragua on foot, and knew the country and 
its peoples as did few. His headquarters were at a convent 
at Texcoco, where his life and energies were devoted with 
success to teaching and converting the Mexicans. His 
Historia de los Indias de Nueva Espana embraces first re- 
ligion and rites of the Aztecs, second conversion, third their 
character, chronology, astrology, and some account of their 
principal cities, etc. His MS. was printed in the first voltmie 
of Icazbalceta's Documentos Ineditos. 



Pietro Martire de Angleria of Arona, Italy, came to Spain 

ii6 Letters of Cortes 

in 1487. He wrote in Latin Dc Orbc Xovo, i)rinted in a com- 
plete edition by Haklu)i;, Paris, 1587. He took great interest 
in the discoveries and colonisation, and was allowed to at- 
tend meetings of the Royal Council for the Indies. He was 
personally acquainted with Columbus, Cortes, and others, 
and their correspondence with the Court was open to him. 
His writings are those of a philosophical observer of historical 
events, unencumbered with the manifold details and small 
incidents which crowd and confuse the pages of the soldier 
chroniclers such as Bernal Diaz. He died in 1525. 



Antonio de Herrera was born at Cuellar in 1549, and was 
made Historiographer of the Indies from 1 492-1 554. His 
Historia General de las Indias Occidentales is divided into eight 
decades, of which the first four were published in 1601, the 
others in 1 6 1 5 , five volumes in folio. A very free English trans- 
lation, with omissions, was made by Stevens. The plan of 
this work is confused and interrupted, wanting in sequence, 
and filled with irrelevant details. He had access to all the 
Statepapers, colonial reports, and every MS. relating to the 
discovery, conquest, and colonisation of the New World, and 
he quoted very freely from Las Casas. Dazzled by the 
wonderful events of the times and the equally marvellous 
achievements of his countrymen, he was blind to their faults 
and excesses, so that, while not exactly a panegyric, his work 
is coloured by a strong patriotism, which shows in hi3 op- 
timistic appreciation of the character and deeds of the con- 
querors. His work is, however, a compendium of authentic 
information which cannot be too highly esteemed. He died 
in 1625. 



Juan de Torquemada, Provincial of the Franciscans in 
Mexico from 1614-1617, spent more than fifty years of his 

Bibliographical Note 117 

life in the country, during which time he amassed an im- 
mense collection of ancient pictures, writings, and original 
manuscripts, besides the information, often legendary and 
contradictory, which he obtained from the Indians. Of his 
Monarchia Indiana Clavigero says that one must seek jewels 
among the rubbish. It was first published in Madrid in 1614, 

and again in 1724. 



The work of the eminent American historian William H. 
Prescott is too well known to require extensive notice 
here. His diligence in research, and his scholarly familiarity 
with the ;;ources of Spanish- American history, contributed to 
make his Conquest of Mexico a masterpiece of historical narra- 
tive, in which sober facts seem almost to catch the glamour 
of romance from the delightful style of their presentation, 
and this work will doubtless long remain the most complete, 
as it is the most fascinating, account in our language of the 
stirring events it describes. 



In 1880, the Historia Antiqiia de la Conquista de Mexico, 
by Don Manuel Orozco y Berra, Vice-President of the Society 
of Geography and Statistics, was published by the order and 
at the expense of the Mexican Government, Don Porfirio 
Diaz being then President, and Senor Mariscal Minister of 
Public Instruction. This erudite work, the fruit of a lifetime 
of discriminating research by the distinguished author, is 
divided into four parts: I. Civilisation, II. Prehistoric Man 
in Mexico, III. Ancient History, IV. The Conquest. 



The collection of documents, for the most part inedited, 
published in 1858 by Don Joaquin Garcia Icazbalceta, opens 

ii8 Letters of Cortes 

many orip^inal and invaluable historical sources to all. The 
labours of this learned Mexican in the field of historical 
research are beyond all praise. 

Besides the ^vrite^s above noticed, the following are the 
principal authorities who have been consulted: 

in Icazbalceta's 

Iniditos, volume i. 

De Rebus Gestis, anonymous. 

Ititierario de larmata del Re Catholico 

El Conquistador Andnitno 

Ixtlilxochitl, Historia Chichimeca. 

P. Diego Duran, Historia de las Indias de Nueva Espaha. 

Fernando Tezozomoc, Cronica Mexicana, 1538. 

Diego Munoz Camargo (Tlascalan), Historia Tlascala. 

Carlos Siguenza, Imperio Chichimeco, Geneal. Reyes Mexi- 

Pizarro: Varones Illustres. 

Joseph de Acosta, S. J., Historia Natural y Moral de las 
Indias. Madrid, i6o8. 

Thomas Gage, Voyage 1626. 

Archbishop Lorenzana, Historia de Nueva Espana, 

Salazar y Olarte, Historia de la Conquista. 

Francesco Xaverio Clavigero, Storia Antica del Messico. 

Agostino de Vetancourt, Teatro Mexicano, 1698 (Mexico). 

Gemelli Careri, Giro delMondo, Venezia, 1728. 

Antonio de Solis, Historia de la Conquista. 

Andres Cavo, S. J., Los Tres Siglos de Mexico (Carlo 

Archivo Mexicano, Residencia de Cortes. 

Diego de Landa, Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan. 

William Robertson, History of America; History of Charles V. 

Washington Irving, Life of Columbus; Companions of 

Luca Alaman, Dissertazioni sulla Storia del Messico. Ital- 
ian translation by E. Pelaez, 1859. 

Humboldt, Essai Politique; Vues des Cordillieres. 

Mexico a Trovers los Siglos (published under direction of 
D. Vincente Riva Palacio). 

Sir Arthur Helps, Cortes. 

Bibliographical Note 119 

Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Yiicatan. 

Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Mexico in Vol. X. 

Abbd Brasseur de Bourbourg. Histoire des Nations Civ- 
ilisees du Mextque, 1839. 

Ternaux-Compans, Voyages, Relations et Memoires, Origi- 
naux. Paris, 1883. 

Andres Gonzalez de Barcia, Historiadoses Primitiros de las 
Indias Occidentals. 

Martin Fernandez de Navarre te, Documentos ineditos para 
la Historia de Espana. 

Riradeneira's Bihlioteca de Autores Espanoles. 

Desire Charnay, Ancient Cities of the New World. Paris, 




Sent to the Queen Dona Juana, and the Emperor Charles 
v., her son, by the Judiciary and Municipal Authorities 
of the Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, dated the loth July 15 19. 
Very High and Very Powerful and Excellent Princes, 
Very Catholic and Very Great Sovereigns and Rulers. 
We believe that Your Majesties by a letter from Diego 
Velasquez,^ Lieutenant of the AdmiraP in the Island of Fer- 
nandina, ^ will have been informed of the new land, which 

» He was a native of Cuellar, and accompanied Columbus on his 
second voyage in 1493; under commission of Diego Columbus, then 
viceroy, he effected the conquest of Cuba, and became governor of the 
island. He showed himself ungrateful to his benefactor, Diego 
Columbus, and he was in his turn betrayed, and finally outgeneralled, 
by Cortes. When the royal appointment of the latter, as Captain- 
General of New Spain, was proclaimed in Cuba by Rodrigo de Paz, 
and Francisco de las Casas, to the sound of trumpets in 1522, Diego 
Velasquez took to his bed from sheer mortification, and died within a 
few months. Fuller notice of his character, and his dealings with 
Cortes, are given in the preceding Biographical Note. 

2 Diego Columbus, only son of the Admiral Christopher Columbus 
and his wife Felipa Mogniz Perestrello of Lisbon, succeeded Don 
Nicolas de Ovando as governor, and bore the title of viceroy. 

5 Cuba, which was discovered by Columbus, on October 28, 1492, 
and named by him, Juana, in honour of the Royal Infante, Don Juan. 
He was convinced that he had reached China, or Cipango, of which 
he had read in Marco Polo's narrative. It was discovered to be an 
island by Ocampo, who first circumnavigated it in 1508. The 
island was conquered in 151 1 by Velasquez, in command of three hun- 
dred men, but so peaceable and indolent were the natives, that the 
conquest was eflfected almost without a struggle; for only one chief, 
Hatuey, with a few followers, attempted to dispute the landing of the 
Spaniards. Hatuey was captured, and sentenced to be burned. 
When this cruel sentence was about to be carried out, a friar exhorted 
him to be baptised, and thus ensure his soul going to paradise. The 
chief asked if there would be Spaniards there, and when the friar 


124 Letters of Cortes 

was discovered in these parts about two years ago, which 
in the beginning was called Cozumcl, ^ and has since been 
named Yucatan, 2 without its being the one or the other. 
This your Royal Highnesses will be able to perceive from 
our narration because, until now the accounts, which 
have been made to Your Majesties concerning this coun- 
try, both of its customs and wealth, as well as concerning 
the manner of its discovery, and other things which have 
been stated about it, are not and could not have been 
exact, for, as will appear from this account which we send 
to Your Highnesses, up till now no one has known them. 
We will deal with it here from the beginning of its 

answered that they all hoped to go there, he rephed that then he would 
rather not. So he was burned, but not converted. The Indian name 
Cuba has persisted and survived all others. (Oviedo, Hist. 6^^n., lib- 
xxvii., cap. iii. ; Las Casas, Hist, de las Indies, lib. iii., cap. xxi.-xxv.) 

' Cozumel, also sometimes called Acuzamil {Ah-Cnzamil meaning 
the "Swallows"), was discovered by Juan de Grijalba on the feast 
of the Invention of the Holy Cross, and hence named by him Santa 
Cruz. He took possession in the name of the Spanish sovereigns, 
and of Diego Velasquez, under whose commission the expedition had 
sailed. There was a stone building on the island, having a square 
tower with a door in each of its four sides. Inside this there were idols, 
palm branches, and bones, which they said were those of a great chief 
(Oviedo, lib. xvii., cap ix.). The tower was surmounted by a smaller 
square turret which was reached by an outside staircase. Grijalba 
hoisted the Spanish flag on this turret, and named the place San Juan 
de Puerta Latina. The Chaplain Fray Juan Diaz said mass. Cristo- 
bal de Olid, who was sent by Velasquez in search of Grijalba's expedi- 
tion, about whose safety fears were felt, also landed at Cozumel, and 
took formal possession, thinking that he was its discoverer (Orozco 
y Berra, tom. iv., cap. i.). The inhabitants seemed poor, and what 
gold they produced was mostly an alloy with copper, of little value, 
which the Indians called guanin, and prized highly (Las Casas, lib. 
7, cap. Ixvii.). 

Cozumel was a place of pilgrimage, and in one of the great temples 
there stood a hollow statue called Teel-Cuzam (the Swallows' Feet), 
made of terra-cotta, in which a priest placed himself to give oracular 
answers to the pilgrims (Cogolludo, Hist, de Yucatan, lib. iv., cap. 

2 Yucatan, "The land of wounds and calamities," as Bemal Diaz 
called it. This coast was first sighted by Columbus, but he did not 
land. In 1 5 1 1 , a boat-load of men from the wreck of Valdivia's caravel 

First Letter 125 

discovery up to its present state, so that Your Majesties 
will know the country as it really is, the people who 
possess it, and the manner of their life, and the rites 
and ceremonies, the sect or law they obey, and the 
profit which Your Royal Highnesses may derive from it; 
and may also know who have here rendered services 
to Your Majesties, in order that Your Royal Highnesses 
may act as best suits your service. The most faithful 
and exact account is as follows: 

It may be two years, a little more or less, Most En- 
lightened Princes, that, in the City of Santiago, ^ which 
is in the Island of Fernandina, of whose towns Expedition 
we have been citizens, three inhabitants of ofFernan- 
the said Island united, and the one was called <iez de 

Francisco Fernandez de Cordoba, 2 another or o a 
Lope Ochoa de Caicedo, and the third Cristobal Mor- 

drifted onto the coast, and the men were sacrificed, and eaten, all save 
two, who escaped as will be explained later. The coast was first really 
discovered by Francisco Fernandez de Cordoba, as is here related, 
and the name of Yucatan was the word tectetan, meaning "I don't 
understand," caught by the Spaniards from the natives, and which 
they took to be the name of the country (Motolinia, trat iii., cap. 
viii.). The Indian name was Ulumil Cuz, and Etel Ceh, meaning the 
land of birds and game; they also called it Peten, an island, though 
they well knew that it was not one. According to Ordonez, not only 
the coast province, but the entire country, was also called Maya 
(a waterless land). The language of all the country was known as 
the Maya tongue. 

The subjoined references will be useful to students of the history 
of this most interesting country and its stupendous antiquities: 
CogoUudo, Hist, de Yucatan; Brasseur de Bourbourg, Histoire des 
Nations civilis^es du Mexique; Diego de Landa, Relacion de las Cosas 
de Yucatan (French translation by Brasseur de Bourbourg) ; Stephens, 
Incidents of Travels in Yucatan; Bancroft, Native Races; and Carrillo, 
Compendio de la Hist. Yucatan. 

1 Santiago was the seat of the governor, and the cathedral city of 
the first bishop. 

2 This expedition was organised by the men who had originally come 
from Spain with Pedro Arias de Avila, commonly called Pedrarias 
de Avila, when he was sent in command of an admirably equipped 
fleet to supersede Balboa as governor of Darien. Among these men 
was Bemal Diaz del Castillo, whose copious narrative of the events 

126 Letters of Cortes 

ante; and, as it is customary in these Islands, which 
have been peopled by Spaniards in the name of Your 
Majesties, to brini; Indians for their service from the 
other Islands which have not been peopled by Spaniards, 
these said persons sent two ships and a brigantine, in 
order to fetch Indians from those Islands ^ to Fernandina 

in the islands, and in Mexico, is one of the most valuable sources 
of American history. 

These men, on their return from Darien, were cordially received 
in Cuba by Diego Velasquez, who encouraged them to continue ex- 
plorations. After three years of fruitless delays during which many 
were ill and some had died, they decided to organise a venture on their 
own account, and they secured the co-operation of Francisco Fernandez 
de Cordoba, a rich colonist, who was willing to put his money into the 
undertaking. He was chosen as captain, three vessels were bought, 
one of which Cortes and others assert, was furnished by Velasquez, 
on condition that he should be reimbursed for his outlay by slaves, 
who should be brought back from the islands. Bemal Diaz says 
that they refused this condition, but that Velasquez furnished the 
ship just the same; this, however, does not accord with other testi- 
mony, and it may well be that Bemal Diaz, who was simply an enlisted 
soldier-adventurer, knew little of the conditions negotiated amongst 
the owners and leaders. 

The little flotilla put to sea from Santiago on February 8, 151 7, 
stopping first at Puerto del Principe for supplies, and continuing 
thence under the direction of the pilot Alaminos, who laid the course. 
After a voyage not free from dangers, they discovered a small island 
off the peninsula of Yucatan, which they called Isia de las Mugeres 
(Women's Island), because they found there statues of the goddesses 
Xchel and Ixchebeliax, and others. From this island an important 
looking town on the mainland was visible, which they named Grand 
Cairo. This expedition, as will be seen in succeeding notes, ended 

> The Spanish settlements in the New World were, at that time, 
limited to the islands of Hispaniola (Haiti), Cuba, Puerto Rico, and 
Jamaica, which were called the Indies by the discoverers and con- 
querors, because they were firmly persuaded they had encircled half 
the globe, and reached the Orient. Besides these four islands, there 
was the colony of Darien, of which more information will be given 
later. Popular imagination in Spain was inflamed by the tales of vast 
wealth in gold, silver, pearls, precious stones, and spices, lying in 
the virgin lands waiting to be picked up by the first comer. Avaricious 
adventurers set out to enrich themselves by a lucky venture, and 
return with their easily and quickly won fortunes to Spain. Serious 
projects for colonisation were not yet conceived, and, what settlements 

First Letter 127 

to make slaves of them. We believe, although we do 
not positively know it, that the said Diego Velasquez, 
Lieutenant of the Admiral, owned a fourth part of the 
armada. One of the owners of the said armada, called 
Francisco Fernandez de Cordoba, went as its Captain, 
taking as pilot a resident of the town of Palos,^ one 
Anton de Alaminos,2 whom we have also now as pilot, 
and whom we have sent to Your Royal Highnesses that 
he may furnish information to Your Majesties. 

Pursuing their voyage, they arrived at the said 
Island of Yucatan, at its uttermost point, which may 
be sixty or seventy leagues both from the Discovery 
said Island of Fernandina, and from this coun- of 

trv of the rich land of Vera Cruz, [thus in Yucatan 
the MS. , where we now are in the name of 
Your Royal Highnesses. At this point they disembarked 
at a town called Campoche, ^ whose chief they named 

there were, had been made by disillusioned immigrants who, when they 
found that gold and pearls, instead of lying at their feet, had to be 
sought as elsewhere with labour, enslaved the natives for the exploita- 
tion of the natural resources of the islands. Thus the slave trade sprang 
up, and as the Indians, unaccustomed to hard work and harsh treat- 
ment, died ofE in such numbers as to rapidly depopulate the neighbour- 
hoods of the Spanish settlements, expeditions were constantly 
organised to the neighbouring islands for the purpose, as Cortes states, 
of capturing the natives. The system of repartimientos and en- 
comiendas was begun under the sanction of Columbus, and, in spite 
of the denunciations of the Church, and repeated edicts from the home 
government, the slave trade flourished, and the island population 
rapidly dwindled. This subject is more fully noticed in Appendix I. 
to the Fourth Letter. 

« Anton de Alaminos had served under Columbus on his voyage 
in 1502, when the other pilots were Comacho de Triana, and Juan 
Alvarez ; there was also the inspector of the royal fifth Bernardino de 
Iniquez, and a Chaplain, Alonzo Gonzalez from the town of San 

2 The little port from which Columbus originally sailed in 1492. 

3 The point of Catoche, where they landed on March 5th, is 
the extremity of the peninsula nearest to Cuba. A chief and many 
people came out to the caravels in canoes, and having no interpreter 
they made themselves understood as best they could by signs, inviting 

128 Letters of Cortes 

Lazaro, and gave two spindles with a piece of cloth of 
gold; but, as the natives of the country did not allow 
them to remain in the town, or on land, they left, and 
went about ten leagues down the coast, where they again 
landed at a town called Machocobon, ^ whose chief was 
Champoto. Here they were well received by the natives, 
though they were not allowed to come into the towns; 
and that night they slept out of their ships, and on land. 
The natives, seeing this, attacked them 2 on the 
morning of the following day, in such a manner that 26 
Spaniards perished, and all the rest were wounded, and 
at last the Captain Francisco Fernandez de Cordoba, 
seeing this, escaped with those who were left to him by 
taking refuge in the ships. The said Captain, seeing 
that more than a quarter of his people had been killed, 
and that he himself had received 30 odd wounds, and 
was almost dead, and despairing of escape, returned with 
the ships and people to the said Island of Fernandina. ^ 

the Spaniards to land, and saying Conex Cotoche, which means "come to 
our houses, " but was thought by the Spaniards to be the name of the 
place. They called it Catoche therefore (Carrillo, Compendia de la 
Hist. Yucatan p. 105). Cortes here confuses Catoche with Cam- 
peche (in Maya, Kimpech) , further westward on the bay of the same 
name, where the caravels arrived on Sunday, the feast of San Lazaro 
(March 22nd). Oviedo says that the Spaniards called the chief of the 
place Lazaro, and that the Indian name for the place was Campeche, 
but Orozco y Berra states that, in ancient letters, the place is called 
llazaro, and the river Campeche (torn, iv., cap. i., note). 

1 There is much confusion amongst the early writers in the 
spelling of Indian names, and in assigning them correctly. In this 
case the place was called Poton-Chan, and the bay received the name 
of Mala Pelea from the Spanish sailors, on account of the disastrous 
rout they suffered there. The Cacique, Machocobon, according to 
Gomara, was a very formidable warrior. 

* See Appendix I. at close of Letter. 

' Alaminos, after consulting the other pilots, decided to sail 
for Florida, as being the best way back to Cuba, and because he knew 
that coast since its discovery by Ponce de Leon. They reached 
Florida in four days, and, upon landing to get water, they were again 
attacked. Both Alaminos and Bemal Diaz were wounded, while 
Berrio, the only soldier who had come unscathed out of the Mala- 

First Letter 129 

Here they made known to Diego Velasquez that they 
had found a land very rich in gold, because they had seen 
that all the natives wore it, some in their noses, some 
in their ears, and some in other parts, and, likewise, 
that there were in that country edifices Return 
built of mortar and stone. They made known of the 

to him also many other facts, which they pub- Expedition 
Hshed about the admirable things and riches of the said 
land, and they counselled him to send ships to barter for 
gold, saying that, if he would do so, a great amount of 
it could be obtained.^ 

Upon learning this, the said Diego Velasquez, moved 
more by cupidity than any other zeal, sent a Procurator 
to the Island of Hispaniola, with a certain account, which 
he made to the Reverend Fathers of St. Jerome, 2 who 
resided there as Governors of the Indies, to obtain per- 

Pelea fight, met the worse fate of being taken alive. After many 
mishaps, they finally landed at Carenas (Habana), and, ten days later. 
Francisco Fernandez de Cordoba died from his wounds, and thus ended 
this disastrous expedition (Bernal Diaz, cap. i-vi. ; Oviedo, lib 
xvii., cap. iv.; Gomara, Hist, de las Indias, cap. lii.; Herrera, dec. ii.^ 
lib. iii., cap. xvii-xviii.; Cogolludo, Hist. Yucatan, lib. i., cap. i-ii.; 
Torquemada, lib. iv., cap. iii.). 

» Their description of the solidly built houses and temples, the 
spoils of gold which they brought, together with the two converted 
captives, aroused the greatest excitement, and inflamed Diego Velas- 
quez's cupidity. Speculation as to the origin of the natives of Yucatan 
was rife, and the theory was advanced that they descended from the 
tribes of Jews exiled from Jerusalem under Vespasian and Titus. 

2 Fray Bartolom6 Las Casas had succeeded, by the moving picture 
he drew of the oppression and injustice practised by the Spaniards on 
the natives of the islands, in interesting the Cardinal- Regent Ximenez 
deCisereros in their behalf, and His Eminence's first step was to apply 
to the General of the Jeronymites at San Bartolom^ de Lupiano to 
furnish some men of that order for service in the Indies. A chapter 
of the Priors of Castile, which the General assembled, assented to the 
Cardinal's wish, and furnished three friars who were sent out with 
instructions, and very full powers. Las Casas says that they did not 
go as governors, as some supposed, but rather to see that the laws for 
the protection of the Indians were observed, and to report abuses. 
They were instructed to visit each island personally, to ascertain the 
number of chiefs and tribes, and to see how they were treated by the 

VOL. I. — 9 

130 Letters of Cortes 

mission to colonise in the name of Your Majesties, by 
virtue of the authority which Your Highnesses had given 
them. He told them that they would do a great service 
to Your Majesties if they would give him permission to 
trade v.'ith the natives, for gold and pearls and precious 
stones and other things, all of which would become his 
property by paying the fifth part to Your Majesties. All 
this was granted by the said Reverend Fathers of St. 
Jerome, the Governors, inasmuch as he said in his ac- 
count that he had discovered the land at his own cost, 
and moreover knew the secrets of it, and that he would 
provide in every respect as should best advance the 
service of Your Royal Highnesses. On the other hand, 
without communicating it to the said Jeronymite Fathers, 
he sent to Your Royal Highnesses a certain Gonzalo de 

holders of eiicomiendas. as well as by the governors, judges, and other 
cflScials. Hispaniola (Haiti), Cuba, and Jamaica, were particularly 
designated for their visitations, and they were enjoined to inspect the 
mines, and report on possible ameliorations. They had power to 
regulate the amount of meat to be allowed each labourer, the market 
price of necessities, the housing of the Indians, the education of 
children, marriages between Spaniards and natives, etc. 

These friars were selected by Cardinal Ximenez from among twelve 
names presented to him by four Priors, sent by the Chapter to Madrid 
for that purpose, and they sailed from San Lucar, November 11, 15 16, 
landing in San Domingo thirteen days later (Las Casas). Gayangos, 
Cartas de Cortes, p. 3 , mentions the Jeronymite Fathers as numbering 
but two. Fray Luis de Fig^eroa, a native of Seville, who was Prior of 
Mejorada, and Fray Alonso de Santo Domingo, Prior of San Juan 
de Ortega. The third, however, was Fray Bernardino de Manzanedo. 

The island of Hispaniola, where the Jeronymites resided, was discov- 
ered on December 6, 1492, by Christopher Columbus who named the 
harbour where he landed San Nicolas. San Domingo became the prin- 
cipal city and residence of the viceroy. In consequence of the 
dissensions between Don Diego Columbus, who held that office, and 
various persons, notably the royal treasurer, Miguel Pasamonte, 
who headed a faction against him, the Spanish government in 15 10 
established the Royal Audiencia. This was a court of appeal for 
all causes in which the viceroy had pronounced judgment. The 
name Hispaniola (Espanola), given by Columbus to the island, has 
been superseded by the original Indian name of Haiti. 

First Letter 131 

Guzman,^ with power of attorney, and the same account, 
saying that he had discovered the country at his own cost, 
thus rendering service to Your Majesties, and that he 
wished to conquer it at his own cost, and he prayed Your 
Royal Highnesses to make him adelantado 2 and governor 
of it, with certain privileges for which he asked further 
on, as Your Majesties will have seen by his account, and 
for which reason we do not express them here. 

In the meantime, as the permission was given by the 
Reverend Fathers of St. Jerome, the Governors in the 
nameof Your Majesties, he hastened to fit out Expedition 
three ships and a brigantine, so that, if Your of 

Majesties were not pleased to grant Gonzalo de Grijalba 
Guzman what he had asked, the ships would have 
already been sent, with the permission given by 
the said Reverend Jeronymite Fathers, the Gover- 
nors. He sent as Captain one of his relatives, called 
Juan de Grijalba,^ and with him 160 men of the 

» Gonzalo de Guzman was a royal treasurer in the islands. 

2 Spanish title for the governor of a province. 

3 A native of Cuellar, who came to Cuba when a mere lad. 
Las Casas describes him as a youth of great promise, and Gomara 
says he was a nephew of Velasquez's. He was of gentle birth, and, 
as a fellow-townsman, he was treated by Velasquez with much con- 
sideration, whether he was a relative or not. The armada furnished 
him consisted of four caravels, the Santiago, San Sebastian, La 
Trinidad, and Santa Maria de los Remedios; the pilots were the same 
who went with the first expedition, with the addition of a fourth one, 
unnamed. There was a treasurer, Anton de Villasana, an inspector, 
Francisco de Penalosa, and a chaplain, Fray Juan Diaz; in all told 
above two hundred persons composed the company. After several false 
starts, they finally set sail on May ist. This date, in spite of divers con- 
tradictions, is established by the Itinerario de Varmata del Re Cattolico 
verso la Isola de Yucatan, MDXVII., which is given in the Documentos 
Ineditos of Joaquin Garcia Icazbalceta, Mexico, 1858. 

Three other captains were Pedro de Alvarado, Francisco de Montejo, 
and Alonso Davila; the men including pilots and sailors numbered 
250. They discovered the Tabasco River, which was henceforth named 
Grijalba, though the name Tabasco (Tabzcoob was the Indian name) 
remained to the province between Yucatan and Cuazocoalco. 

After Rio Tabasco, they discovered a river (Xamapan, now called 

13- Letters of Cortes 

inhabitants of said Island, amongst whom some of us came 
as Captains for the purpose of serving Your Majesties, and 
not only did we and those of the said armada come risking 
our own persons, but we and they also provided almost all 
the outfit of the said armada from our own resources, 
in which we and they spent a very great part of our 
fortunes. And there went again as pilot of this armada 
the same Anton de Alaminos, who first discovered the 
said country when he went with Francisco Fernandez 
de Cordoba. 

In making this vo^^age, they followed in his former 
track, and, before they reached the said land, they dis- 
covered a small island, called Cozumel, which may measure 

Jamapa), which they called Banderas, because Indians carrying 
white flags were seen along the coast. They received them with great 
civility and interest, and traded to the amount of 15,000 dollars 
worth of gold (Bernal Diaz, cap. xiii.). Here the name of Monte- 
zuma was first heard by the Spaniards. The next stopping place 
was named Isla de los Sacrifios, because they found in a temple there 
six or seven bodies of men with their breasts cut open, and their hearts 
gone. The Island of Ulua was so named from the Indian word Culua, 
which the Spaniards imperfectly caught, and, to distinguish it from 
San Juan de Puerto Rico, they called the place San Juan de Ulua 
(Bernal Diaz, cap. xiv. ; Orozco y Berra, vol. iv., cap. ii.). 

On the Island of Ulua the Spanish government afterwards built 
a fortress said to have cost forty millions of dollars, and which was 
the last stronghold of Spain in Mexico. On November 23, 1825, 
the President of the new republic announced its fall by a proclamation : 
"The standard of the republic floats over the castle of Ulua! I 
announce to you, fellow citizens, with inexpressible pleasure that, 
after a lapse of three hundred and four years, the flag of Castile has now 
disappeared from our coasts." 

From here, Pedro de Alvarado with one of the four ships, the San 
Sebastian, was sent to report to Diego Velasquez what had been dis- 
covered. He took also the gold and treasures, and was to ask for 
further instructions concerning settlements, which Grijalba had no 
power to make. The others next went on to Panuco. Velasquez 
was vexed with Grijalba for not colonising, though the latter justified 
himself by the instructions given him, which expressly forbade this 
(Bernal Diaz, cap. xv. ; Oviedo, lib. xvii., cap. xviii. ; Gomara, Cronica, 
cap. v., vi. ; CogoUudo, lib. i., cap. iii., iv. ; Orozco y Berra, vol. iv., 
cap. ii.-iii.). 

First Letter 133 

about thirty leagues, and lies off the southern part of the 
said land; and they arrived in the Island at a town, to 
which they gave the name of San Juan de Puerta Latina, ^ 
and the Island they named Santa Cruz. 2 The same 
day on which they arrived there about 150 Indians of 
the town came to see them, and as it appeared, on the 
following day these Indians abandoned the town and 
fled to the woods. 

Being in need of water, the Captain hoisted sail in 
order to obtain it elsewhere that same day, and while 
pursuing his voyage, it was agreed to return to the said 
port and Island of Santa Cruz, where he anchored and 
went on shore, finding the town without people, as 
though it had never been inhabited. He took his supply 
of water, returning to his ships without taking soundings, 
or learning anything so as to be able to give a true account 
to Your Royal Highnesses concerning that Island. 

Setting sail he left, keeping on his voyage until he 
arrived at the land which Francisco Fernandez de Cor- 
doba had discovered, where they coasted about, from 
south to west, until they came to a bay, which the said 
Captain Gonzalo and the chief pilot, Anton de Alaminos, 
named Bay of Ascension. ^ This, according to the 
opinion of the pilots, is very near to Punta de las Velas, 
discovered by Vicente Yanez * which is the part [passage 
in the MS. not intelligible'] of the Bay which is very 

1 The town thus named by Grijalba, as described in Note i , page 124. 

2 Cozumel. Here the converted Indians, Melchor and Julian, 
began to act as interpreters. 

3 Bay of Ascension. This was on Thursday the 13th, feast of the 
Ascension, and they remained there reconnoitring until Sunday. 

* Vincente Yanez Pinzon, who landed jhere about January 26, 
1500, was one of the three Pinzon brothers who first sailed with 
Columbus from Palos in 1492. He afterwards commanded an expedi- 
tion composed of four small ships which sailed from Palos in 1499, 
making the first discovery of land at the present Cape St. Augustine, 
on the coast of Brazil, in 1506. He again sailed with Juan de Solis, 
on a voyage to find the strait which it was thought joined the Atlantic 
and Pacific oceans, and, in 1508, he repeated this fruitless experiment. 

134 Letters of Cortes 

large, and it is thought that it reaches to the Sea of the 

Thence they returned along the same coast by which 
they had gone, until they rounded the point of the said 
land, and, continuing in a northerly direction, they sailed 
until they arrived at the said Point Campoche, whose 
chief was named Lazaro, where Francisco Fernandez 
de Cordoba had stopped to trade, and, as ordered by 
Diego Velasquez, as well as to take the water he greatly 
needed, landed there. 

As soon as the natives saw them coming, they placed 
themselves near their town, in array of battle, so as to 
defend its entrance. The Captain called to them, through 
the interpreters who accompanied him, and certain In- 
dians came, whom he made to understand that he came 
merely for the purpose of trading with them for such 
things as they might have, and to get water; and thus 
he went with them until they arrived at a place, very 
near their town, where there was a spring. While taking 
the water he asked them through the said interpreter for 
gold, saying he would give them in exchange the valu- 
ables which he brought, and, as soon as the Indians saw 
this, having no gold to give him, they told him to go 
Gri'alba's ^^'^YJ ^ut he begged them to allow him to 
Encounters finish taking water, saying that he would 
with the immediately leave. In spite of this, however, 
Indians ^iq -^^^s unable to save himself from being 
obliged the next day, at the hour of mass, to fight the 
Indians, armed with their bows and arrows, their lances, 
and rodelas, ^ so that they killed a Spaniard, and wound- 
ed the said Captain Grijalba and many others. That 
same afternoon they re-embarked in their caravels with 
all their people, without having gone into the town of the 

1 These were round shields for defence, which were adorned 
with different coloured feathers of herons, parrots, and other birds, 
according to the category of the troops, or the heraldic emblem of the 


First Letter 135 

said Indians, and without having learned anything which 
they could truly relate to Your Majesties. 

From there they went along the said coast until they 
came to a river, which they named Grijalba, and which 
they ascended about the hour of vespers. Early the 
following morning, they found on both sides of the river 
a great number of Indians and warriors, with their bows 
and arrows, and lances, and rodelas, to defend the en- 
trance to their country; and to some, it seemed there 
were about five thousand Indians. 

The Captain seeing this, no one landed, but he spoke 
to them from the ship through his interpreters, praying 
them to approach nearer so that he might explain to them 
the motives of his coming, and twenty Indians entered 
a canoe, and cautiously approached the ships. The 
Captain Grijalba then told them, and made them under- 
stand through his interpreter, that he had come only to 
barter, and that he wished to be their friend, and that 
they should bring their gold for which he would give them 
many valuables which he carried; and thus they did. 

The next day, they brought certain jewels of thin 
gold, for which the said Captain gave them in return such 
valuables as he thought proper, and they returned to their 
town; and the said Captain remained there that day. 

The next day he set sail, without learning anything 
else about the country, and continued until he ari'ived 
at the Bay, to which they gave the name of San Juan. 

The Captain went ashore there with some of his people 
to some desolate sand-hills, and as, when the natives had 
seen the ships coming along the coast, they had assembled, 
he spoke to them, through his interpreter, and had a 
table brought on which he spread out some of his valu- 
ables, making them understand that he had come to 
trade with them and to be their friend. When the In- 
dians saw and understood this, they brought some stuffs, 
and ornaments of gold, which they traded with the Cap- 

136 Letters of Cortes 

tain; and from there the said Captain Grijalba dispatched 
one of the caravels to Diego Velasquez, with all that they 
had up till then obtained. 

The caravel having departed for the Island of Fer- 
nandina where Diego Velasquez was, the Captain Gri- 
jalba went down the coast with the remaining caravels, 
cruising for a distance of about forty-five leagues without 
landing, or seeing anything except what could be seen 
from the sea. He then set out to return towards the 
Island of Femandina, and never more did he see any- 
thing of the country worth mentioning, from which your 
Royal Highnesses may believe that all the accounts 
which have been made about this country cannot have 
been exact, because they knew nothing more of the 
secrets of it than what it has suited their purpose to 

As soon as the said caravel, which the Captain Juan 
de Grijalba had dispatched from the Bay of San Juan, 
arrived, and Diego Velasquez saw the gold which it 
canied, and learned from Grijalba's letters about the 
stuffs and valuables which had been given in exchange, 
it seemed to him, according to information given him 
by those who arrived in the said caravel, that he had 
obtained little in proportion to what he expected. He 
declared that he had not even covered the cost he had 
incurred in the said aiTnada, and he was vexed, and showed 
dissatisfaction at the little which Captain Grijalba had 
accomplished in this country. 

In truth, Diego Velasquez had no reason to complain, 
because his outlays in the said armada were covered from 
certain casks, and tuns of wine, and other merchandise, 
and boxes of laced shirts, and beads, which he had sent 
with it. The wine was sold there to us at four dollars 
in gold, which are two thousand maravedis ^ the aroba, 

>A small Spanish coin: Bancroft (Hist. Mex., vol. ii., p. 376) 
gives the value of the diicat as equal to 375 maravedis, and peso de 

First Letter 137 

and each shirt at two dollars in gold, and the string of 
green beads at two dollars, so that he thus covered his 
outlay in the armada, and even made money. We make 
special mention of this to Your Majesties that it may be 
known that the armadas, which until now have been 
fitted out by Diego Velasquez, have been intended as 
much for trading merchandise as for privateers, and this 
with our persons and with our property; and although 
we have suffered infinite hardships we have served, and 
we shall serve. Your Royal Highnesses as long as life 

Diego Velasquez being vexed by the small amount of 
gold that had been brought him, and wishing to obtain 
more, determined, without making it known to the Gov- 
ernors, the Jeronymite Fathers, to equip a swift armada, 
and to send it in search of his relative, the said Captain 
Juan de Grijalba. To do this at less cost to himself, he 
spoke to Fernando Cortes, a resident and alcalde for 
Your Majesties in the city of Santiago, proposing to him 
that they should fit out between them eight or ten ships, 
because at that time Fernando Cortes had more resources 
than any other person in the said Island, and because 
it was believed that more people would enlist with him 
than with any other. 

The said Fernando Cortes, considering what Diego 
Velasquez had proposed, and moved by zeal to serve 

minas as 450 maravedis, which he computes as equal to $9.75 ; he refers 
to Clemencin, secretary of the Spanish Royal Academy as his authority. 
Prescott (Conquest of Mex.) computes the ducat at $8.75, and gives the 
feso de oro, and the castellano as identical, and worth $11.67. Mr. 
George Folsom, in his English translation of three Letters of Cortes, 
gives the value of the castellano as only $2.75. According to these 
calculations, the feso de minas, and the peso de oro, were different coins. 
The value of these monies is difficult to estimate. Their purchasing 
power was far greater than their exact equivalent would be to- 
day, and the value of articles of European manufacture, of horses, 
iron, and other imported necessities was variable, according to their 
scarcity, and to the needs of the buyer. Nails, horseshoes, and like 
objects, sometimes cost their weight in gold, or double in silver. 

138 Letters of Cortes 

Your Royal Highnesses, was ready to spend all he had, 
and to equip almost two parts of this armada at his own 
cost, not only in ships, but also in stores, and moreover 
to distribute his moneys amongst those who were going 
in the armada, and who needed to provide things 
necessary for the voyage. 

The armada having been fitted and equipped, Diego 
Velasquez in the name of Your Majesties, named the 
Cortes ^^^^ Fernando Cortes Captain of it, that he 

Given Com- sliould come to this land to trade, and accom- 
mand of the pHsh what Grijalba had failed to do. The 
rma a agreement respecting the said armada, although 
he did not invest or spend more than one-third part 
of it, was made entirely according to Diego Velas- 
quez's wishes as Your Royal Highnesses may command 
to be verified from the instructions and faculty which 
the said Fernando Cortes received from him in the name 
of Your j\Iajesties. These we now send with these our 
procurators to Your Royal Highnesses. 

Let it be known to Your Majesties that the larger 
part of the third, which Diego Velasquez spent in fitting 
out the said annada, consisted in investing his money 
in wines, and clothing, and in other things of little value, 
in order to sell them to us here at a much higher price 
than they had cost him, so that we may say that Diego 
Velasquez has made his bargains, and the profits on his 
money, amongst us Spaniards, vassals of your Royal 
Highnesses, doing a very good business. 

Having finished fitting out the said armada. Your 
Royal Highnesses' Captain, Fernando Cortes, sailed 
upon his voyage from the Island of Femandina, having 
ten caravels, and four hundred men at arms, amongst 
whom were many knights and other noblemen, and six- 
teen horses. Pursuing their voyage, the first land where 
they arrived was the Island of Cozumel (now called 
Santa Cruz, as has been said), in the port of San Juan 

First Letter 139 

de Puerta Latina. Upon landing, the town which ex- 
isted there was found to be deserted, as though it had 
never been inhabited, and the Captain Fernando Cortes, 
wishing to know the cause of that place being deserted, 
brought the people on land, and quartered them in that 
town. While there with his people he learned from three 
Indians, who had been taken in a canoe ^ at sea while 
going to Yucatan, that the caciques of that Island, seeing 
the Spaniards were approaching, had, out of fear of them 
(not knowing with what purpose, and in what disposition 
they came), abandoned their town, and gone with all 
their Indians into the woods. 

Fernando Cortes, speaking to them through the 
medium of an interpreter who accompanied him, told 
them we were not going to do them any evil Neeotia- 
or injury, but only to instruct them, and win tions at 
them to the knowledge of our Holy Catholic Cozumel 
Faith, so that they might become vassals of Your 
Majesties, serving and obeying them, as had all the 
Indians of these parts which the Spaniards have 
settled, who are likewise vassals of Your Royal High- 
nesses. The said Captain, having thus reassured them 
they put aside their fears, in great part, and said that 
they would go and call the caciques who had gone into 
the woods; and the Captain immediately gave them a 
letter, so that the said caciques might come in all con- 
fidence, and, the Captain having given them a term of five 
days in which to return, they went off thus. 

But while the Captain was waiting for the reply the 
Indians were to bring, and as already three or four days 
beyond the five which he had stipulated had elapsed, 
and he saw that they did not come, he determined, in 
order that the Island might not remain deserted, to send 

> Their canoes were made of tree-trunks, hollowed, and were 
sometimes large enough to hold forty or fifty men (Bernal Diaz, 
cap. ii.). 

I40 Letters of Cortes 

along the coast to the other side. He despatched two cap- 
tains, therefore, each with one hundred men, directing that 
one should go to the extremity of the island from 
one side, and the other from the other, and that they 
should speak to the caciques whom they might encounter, 
telling them that he was waiting for them in that town 
and port of San Juan de Puerta Latina to speak to them 
on behalf of Your Majesties. He also directed that they 
should invite and attract them as best they could, so 
as to induce them to come to the said port of San 
Juan, and that they should do them no harm, either 
in their persons, or houses, or property, so as not to 
alarm them, nor drive them further away than they 
already were. 

The two captains went as the Captain Fernando 
Cortes had ordered them, and three or four days after- 
wards they returned, saying that all the towns they had 
found were empty and bringing with them ten or twelve 
persons whom they had captured. Amongst these was a 
principal Indian to whom the said Fernando Cortes 
spoke in the name of Your Highnesses, through his inter- 
preter, telling him to go and call the caciques, as he would 
on no account leave the Island without having seen and 
spoken vnth them. The Indian answered that he would 
do this, and thus he left with a letter to the said caciques, 
returning two days later with the principal cacique, who 
said that he was Lord of the Island, and had come to see 
for what he was wanted. 

The Captain spoke to him through the interpreter, 
and told him that he did not wish, nor had he come to do 
them any harm, but in order to bring them to a knowledge 
of our Holy Faith, and to let them know that our rulers 
were the greatest Princes in the world, and that they 
obeyed a Greater Prince. And what the said Captain 
Fernando Cortes told them he wanted of them was that 
the caciques and Indians of the said Island should also 

First Letter 141 

obey Your Royal Highnesses, and that in so doing they 
would be much favoured, and no one would ever molest 
them. The Cacique answered that he would be glad to 
do this, and he immediately sent to call all the principal 
people of the Island, who came and were much pleased 
with all that the said Captain Fernando Cortes had told 
the chief cacique of the Island. Thus he ordered them 
to come back, which they joyfully did, becoming reas- 
sured to such an extent that, within a few days, the towns 
were as full of people as before, and all the Indians went 
about amongst us with as little fear as if they had already 
had a long period of intercourse with us. 

In the meantime, the Captain learned that there 
were in the power of certain caciques in Yucatan, 
some Spaniards who had been made captives Spanish 
as long since as seven years, when, having Prisoners in 
been lost in a certain caravel ^ which was Yucatan 
wrecked on the reefs of Jamaica, 2 while coming from 
Tierra Firma, they had escaped in one of the boats of the 
caravel, and reached that coast. From that time they 
had been held captives and prisoners by the Indians, 
Since the said Captain Fernando Cortes had left the 
Island of Fernandina to seek for these Spaniards, and as 
he here received information about them, and about the 
country where they were, it seemed to him that he was 

1 The caravel of Valdi via, sent from Darien and wrecked (1511) 
on the reefs called las Viboras, situated fifteen leagues to the south of 
Jamaica, and which extend for a distance of forty-five leagues, 
from 27° 10' longitude, and 17° north latitude (Alcedo, Diccionario 
Geogr. Hist, de las Indias Occid.). Twenty were saved in an open boat 
without sails, food, or water, and, after thirteen days' drifting, reached 
the Maya coast. Seven or eight had died in the meantime from 
exhaustion, and Valdivia and five others were fattened and sacrificed 
by the Mayas, who captured them on their landing, and were after- 
wards eaten. Notice of those who escaped is given in a later note. 

2 Discovered by Columbus on his second voyage, in 1494, and 
named Santiago. His son Diego effected its conquest, and governed it 
from San Domingo, through his captains, of whom the best known was 
Francisco de Garay. 

142 Letters of Cortes 

rendering a great service to God and to Your Majesty 
in striving to liberate them from their imprisonment 
and captivity. He himself with the whole fleet would 
have gone immediately to rescue them, had not the pilots 
told him on no account to do this, as it would be the 
cause of the loss of the fleet and all the people of it, be- 
cause the coast was very rough, as it really is, and has no 
port or any place where the ships could anchor. For 
this reason he abandoned the idea, and ordered that 
certain Indians, who had told him they knew that 
cacique with whom those Spaniards were, should go 
in a canoe; and he wrote to the Spaniards that the only 
reason why he gave up coming himself with his armada to 
liberate them was because the coast was very bad and 
rough for anchoring, but that he prayed them to strive 
for their liberation, and to escape in canoes, and that he 
should wait for them in the Island of Santa Cruz. 

Three days after the said Captain had sent those 
Indians with his letters, as it appeared to him that he had 
not acted satisfactorily, and believing that those Indians 
would not know how to carry out his wishes, he de- 
termined to send forty Spaniards to the said coast with 
two brigantines, and a boat from his armada, so that they 
might recover those captive Spaniards if they could 
find them. With them he sent three other Indians, who 
should go ashore with another letter ^ of his to seek the 
Spanish prisoners. "When those two brigantines and the 

> Noble Sirs, — I left Cuba with a fleet of eleven ships, and five 
hundred Spaniards, and have arrived at Cozumel, whence I write you 
this letter. 

The people of this island assure me that there are five or six bearded 
white men in this country, who greatly resemble us, and, I conjec- 
ture, though they can give me no other indications, that you are 
Spaniards. I, and the gentlemen, who have come with me to 
explore and take possession of these countries, earnestly beg you 
to come to us within five or six days after you receive this, without 
further delay or excuse. 

If you will come, all of us will recognise, and thank you, for the 

First Letter 143 

boat reached the coast, they landed the three Indians, 
and sent them to seek for the Spaniards, as the Captain 
had ordered ; and they remained six days along the coast 
with much difficulty, always waiting for them, though 
they were almost lost and nearly foundered as the sea 
along the said coast was very rough, just as the pilots had 
said. Seeing then that neither the Spanish captives, nor 
the Indians who had gone to look for them, returned, they 
determined to go back to the Island of Santa Cruz where 
the Captain Fernando Cortes was waiting for them. 

When they reached the Island, and the Captain learned 
their bad news he was much grieved, and immediately 
proposed to embark the next day, firmly resolved to visit 
that country, even if the whole flotilla should be lost, 
for the purpose of ascertaining whether there was any 
truth in the report which Captain Juan de Grijalba had 
sent to the Island of Femandina, to the effect that it was 
all an invention, and that no such Spaniards as were 
said to be captives had ever arrived on that coast. 

Having taken this decision, he had all the people em- 
barked, except himself, and some other twenty Spaniards, 
who remained with him on shore. The weather had 
been most favourable to his intention to leave the port, 
but there suddenly sprang up a contrary wind, with 
squalls of rain, so that the pilots advised the Captain 
not to set sail while the weather was unfavourable for 
getting to sea; so, in view of this, the Captain commanded 
all on board the armada to disembark once more. 

The next day at noon, a canoe with sails was seen 

coming in the direction of the Island, in . . , , 
° ' Arrival of 

which, upon its approach, we saw one of jeronimo 
the Spanish captives, whose name was Jeronimo de Aguilar 

assistance this armada shall receive from you. I send a brigantine 
to bring you, with two ships as escort. 

Hernan Cortes. 
The Indian took this letter tied in his hair. 

144 Letters of Cortes 

de Aguilar, * who told us all about how he came to be 
lost, and the length of time he had been in captivity, 
which is as we have already related to Your Royal 

Of a truth, this adverse weather coming upon us so 
unexpectedly seemed a great mystery and miracle of 
Gk)d, and led us to believe that no enterprise undertaken 
in Your Majesties' service, be it what it may, could end 
in anything but good. 

We learned from Jeronimo de Aguilar, that the other 
Spaniards, who were lost with him in the shipwrecked 
caravel, were scattered over all the land, which he told 
us was very extensive, and that it would be quite impos- 
sible to gather them without staying and losing much 
time over it. So, as the Captain Fernando Cortes saw 
that the provisions of the armada were giving out, and 
that the people would be exposed to suffer great want 
from hunger if they delayed longer, and that this would 
not contribute to the object of their voyage, he deter- 
mined, with the approval of the others to depart. They 
immediately set sail, therefore, leaving that Island of 
Cozumel, which is now called Santa Cruz, entirely pacified, 
so that had it been their intention to colonise, the Indians 

» He was a native of Encija, and had taken holy orders. Seeing 
the dreadful fate of their companions, Aguilar and Gonzalo Guerrero 
managed to escape from the cages, in which they were being fattened 
for the sacrificial feasts, and to lose themselves in the forests. Here 
they were finally captured by the cacique of another tribe, who was 
less bloodthirsty, and held them as slaves instead of killing them. 
Aguilar's virtues and abilities soon attracted attention, and won the 
respect of his captor, and he rose to a position of influence in the country . 

When the news came of the arrival of the ships with more white men, 
and Cortc">'s letter was delivered to Aguilar, he procured permission 
to go to hiS countrymen; but his companion Guerrero, who had mar- 
ried, and had a family, refused to go, for he was ashamed to show him- 
self naked and tattooed, and with his nose and lips pierced in Indian 
fashion. Jeronimo de Aguilar was not distinguishable from the 
Indians, as he was burned nearly black, and wore the same ornaments. 
He remained with Cortes as his interpreter, rendering invaluable 
services throughout the conquest. 

First Letter 145 

would have served them to the best of their ability; 
and the caciques were very pleased and contented both 
with what the said captain had told them on the part 
of Your Royal Highnesses, and with the many ornaments 
he had given them; and I am confident that any Span- 
iards who from henceforward shall arrive at Cozumel 
will be as well received there as in any of those Islands 
which have been long since settled. The said Island 
is small, and there is no creek or river in it, and all 
the water which the Indians drink is from wells, and there 
are only rocks, and stones, and mountains. The only 
trade which the Indians have is in bee-hives, and our 
Procurators will bear to Your Highnesses specimens of 
the honey and the bee-hives that you may command 
them to be examined. ^ 

Be it known to Your Majesties, that the Captain 
exhorted the caciques of the said Island, admonishing 
them to renounce the heathen sect in which they were 
living, and, when they asked him to give them a law ac- 
cording to which they might henceforth live, the said 
Captain instructed them as best he could in the Catholic 
Faith. He left them also a cross of wood in a lofty house, 
and an image of Our Lady, the Virgin Mary, making them 
understand perfectly well what they were obHged to do 
to become good Christians; and they showed that they 
received everything with the best will, and thus they 
were left contented and happy. 

After leaving the Island, we went to Yucatan, and, 
continuing towards the north, we kept in sight of land, 
until we arrived at the great river called Grijalba (Rio 

1 Clavigero notices six different varieties of bees in Mexico, some 
like those common in Europe, and others without stings, which make 
the honey "Estabentun," the clearest, sweetest, and most aromatic 
known. These bees are found in Yucatan, and Chiapa, and it is 
doubtless their honey which is here mentioned. It was collected every 
two months, but the November honey was the best, because it was 
made from a very sweet flower called " Estabentun," which blooms in 

VOL. I. — 10 

146 Letters of Cortes 

de Tabasco), which, according to the account given to 
Your Royal Highnesses, is where Captain de Grijalba, 
relative to Diego Velasquez, had been. The mouth of 
that river is so shallow, that none of the larger ships 
could enter, but, as the said Captain Fernando Cortes is so 
devoted to the service of Your Majesties, and has the best 
intention to relate truthfully everything about that coun- 
try, he determined not to go further until he had learned 
the mystery of that river, and because of their great repu- 
tation for wealth, of the towns which people its banks. 

He therefore embarked all the people of his armada 
in his small brigantines and boats, and ascended the 
Cortes at ^'^^^ river, observing the country and the 
Rio de towns along it ; and when we came to the 
Tabasco f^j-g^ town we found the Indians drawn up 
on the banks, to whom the said Captain spoke through 
the interpreter, and through the said Geronimo de 
Aguilar, who having, as we have heretofore stated, 
been a captive in Yucatan, understood and spoke the 
language of that country very well. He made them under- 
stand how he had not come to do them any harm or 
evil, but only to speak to them on the part of Your 
Majesties ; and that he, therefore, prayed that they would 
allow and approve of his landing, because we had no place 
to sleep that night in the brigantines and barques, in 
which we could not even stand on our feet; and as for 
returning to our ships, it was already very late and they 
were on the high sea. The Indians answered to this 
that he could say all he wished from where he was, but 
that he should not talk of landing, neither he nor his 
people, for they would dispute his entrance; and, saying 
this, they menaced us with their arrows, bidding us to 
go away from there. So as it was late in the after- 
noon (it being already the hour of sundown), the Captain 
ordered us to go to some sand-hills which were opposite 
the town, and there we slept that night. 

First Letter 147 

On the morning of the following day some Indians 
came in a canoe and brought us a certain number of 
chickens and a little maize, which might be sufficient for 
[text missing] number of men for one meal. They told 
us to take that, and to depart from their country, and 
the captain spoke to them through the interpreter whom 
we had, and made them understand that he would in no 
wise go away until he knew the secret of it, so that he 
might write a true account of it to Your Majesties. 
He again begged them that, as they would suffer no 
harm from him, they would not obstruct his entrance to 
the said town, because they were vassals of Your Royal 
Highnesses. But still they answered, that we should 
not venture into the said town but must depart from 
their country. 

When they were gone the Captain determined to go 
there, so he ordered one of his captains to start with two 
hundred men by a road which he had discovered during 
the night we slept on land, while he, himself, embarked 
with about eighty men in the barques and brigantines, 
stationing himself in front of the town, ready to dis- 
embark whenever they would allow him. 

When he came there he found the Indians ready for 
battle, armed with their bows and arrows and lances 
and rodelas, and they told him to depart from p. j^^ 
their country, but if he would not go, and at 

wanted war, to begin at once, for they were Tabasco 
men to defend their town. After the Captain had 
required ^ them three times and asked Your High- 
nesses' notary, whom he carried with him, to bear 
witness to the fact, he told them that he did not 
want war. Seeing, however, that it was the deter- 
mination of the said Indians to resist his landing, and 
that they began to discharge arrows at us, he ordered 
the charges of artillery to be fired, and that we should 

» See Appendix II. at close of Letter. 

148 Letters of Cortes 

charge thorn. Wlion the shots were bcinp fired and while 
landing they wtnindcd some of us, but finally, in con- 
sequence of our rapid charges, and of the attack in the 
rear by those who had gone by the road, they fled, leaving 
us the to\\Ti, and we took possession of that part of it 
which seemed to us the stronger. 

The next day following, at the hour of vespers, two 
Indians, ' on the part of the caciques, came to us, bring- 

> The appearance of the ships of de Cordoba and Grijalba, and the 
fighting in Yucatan, were quickly reported to Montezuma, whose 
superstitious mind was so affected by events, in which he saw the 
disasters to himself and his people foretold by Quetzalcoatl, that his 
first impulse was to save himself by some enchantment or incantation, 
which should translate him to the abode, or Walhalla, of the famous 
kings and demi-gods of antiquity. The simultaneous apparition of a 
great comet in the sky confirmed these forebodings, and he gave 
himself entirely into the hands of his diviners and necromancers, 
who exercised all their resources of interpreting dreams, reading signs 
in natural phenomena, and studying the heavens, to obtain direction 
for their sovereign in his perplexity. Many, whose dreams presaged 
evil, were starved to death or put to tortures; a reign of terror set in, 
and none dared to speak in the sovereign's presence, while the prisons 
were full of luckless magicians, and death penalties were inflicted even 
upon their families in the provinces (Duran, cap. Iviii., and Tezozo- 
moc. apud Orozco y Berra, torn, iv., cap. ii.). As the proofs of the 
presence of the white strangers in their floating houses accumulated, 
despite Montezuma's reluctance to believe the reports which were 
repeatedly brought to him, the sovereign fell into a state of profound 
depression, and despairing of warding off the ominous presence, he 
ordered costly gifts to be especially made, and he sent the two envoi's, 
Teutlamacazqui and Cuitlalpitoc, to Pinotl, governor of Cuetlachtla, 
commanding him to provide in every way for the reception and enter- 
tainment of the celestial guests. After the departure of Grijalba's 
men, the fears of Montezuma somewhat subsided, and he persuaded 
himself that he had staved off the impending disaster. The governor 
of the coast provinces, however, had strict orders to keep watch, and 
immediately report any further appearance of the fearsome strangers. 
Hence the arrival of Cortes, nine months later, was at once an- 
nounced, by fleet messengers, to the Emperor, who decided in council 
to send ambassadors to welcome him, and bring exact information 
concerning all they could see and learn. Thus, on Easter Day, the 
twenty-fourth of April, Teuhtlilli, governor of Cuetlachtla and Cuitlal- 
pitoc, who had been before sent to Grijalba, appeared before Cortes. 
While extending the welcome his superstitious fears forbade him to 

First Letter 149 

ing certain jewels of very thin gold of little value. They 
told the Captain that they brought him those ornaments 
to induce him to go away, and, without doing them any 
harm or injury, to leave them their land where they had 
always been. The said Captain answered, saying, that, as 
to doing them any harm or injury, he had no such wish, 
and as to leaving them the land, they must understand 
that from henceforward they were to have for their Lords, 
the greatest Princes of the earth, whose vassals they 
would be, and that they would have to serve them, and 
that, in acting thus, Your Majesties would grant them 
many mercies, and favours would grow upon them, and 
that they should be protected and defended from their 
enemies. They answered that they would be satisfied 
to do this, but still they required that their country 
should be left to them. Thus we all became friends, 
and, our friendship being established, the Captain told 
them that the Spaniards there with him had nothing 
to eat, as nothing had been brought from the ships, 
and he prayed them to bring us food during the time 
we remained on the Island ; they answered that the 
next day they would, and thus they went away, and re- 
mained away that day and the next, nor did they bring 
us any food. 

As all of us were, on this account, in great need of 
supplies, on the third day some Spaniards asked per- 
mission of the Captain to go to some farms in the 

withhold, the Emperor secretly charged his magicians, whom he as- 
sembled from far and wide, to rid the country of the strangers by 
the power of magic. The allied kings and nobles were in constant 
council from which no decision issued, the greater number being of 
Cacamatzin's opinion, that, if the strangers were gods, it was useless 
to resist them, if they were envoys of a distant monarch, they should 
be received as such, while if they were men who came with hostile 
intent, they could easily be crushed. Only Cuitlahuac, lord of Itzta- 
palapan, opposed this view (Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chichimeca, cap. Ixxx.) 
This prince with patriotic foresight was for crushing the strangers 
nstantly, and before they could work the nation any evil. 

150 Letters of Cortes 

neighbourhcxxl to look for something to eat; and the 
Captain, seeing that the Indians did not return as they 
had promised, sent four captains with more than two 
hundred men to hunt round about the town, and see 
if they could find anything to eat. While these were 
engaged in searching, they met many Indians who 
immediately shot arrows at them, wounding twenty 
Spaniards, and had not the Captain been immediately 
advised of this, so as to go, as he did, to their 
assistance, they would probably have killed more than 
half the Christians. So we all retreated to our camp, 
where the wounded were cared for, and those who had 
fought obtained some rest. 

The Captain, seeing how wrongly the Indians had 
acted, in that, instead of bringing us food as they had 
agreed, they had wounded us with their arrows, and made 
war upon us, ordered ten of the horses and mares we 
had on board to be brought, and all the people to be pre- 
pared, because he thought that those Indians, encouraged 
by the advantage they had obtained the day before, 
would fall upon us hoping to injure us. On the next 
day when all was thus prepared, he sent certain captains 
with three hundred men, to the place where the battle 
had been fought the day before, to learn if the Indians 
were still there or what had become of them. A little 
later, he sent two other captains, with a rear-guard and 
another hundred men, and the said Captain Fernando 
Cortes went secretly to one side with ten men on horse- 
back. Proceeding in this order, those who went ahead 
met a great number of warriors coming to attack us in 
oiir camp, and, if we had not gone out that day to en- 
counter them on the road, we should probably have found 
ourselves in great distress. 

When the captain of artillery, who went ahead, made 
certain requirements before the notary, of the warriors 
whom he met, giving them to understand through the 

First Letter 151 

interpreters that we desired no war, but peace and love 
with them, they did not bother to answer us with words, 
but let fly a thick volley of arrows at us. While those in 
the fore were fighting with the Indians, two captains 
of the rear-guard came up, and, after two hours of fighting, 
the Captain Fernando Cortes arrived with the horsemen, 
coming out from the woods at the point where the In- 
dians were surrounding the Spaniards on all sides; and 
so he kept up the fight with the Indians for an hour, and 
such was their multitude that neither those who were 
fighting the Spanish foot-soldiers could see the horsemen, 
nor know where they were, nor could the horsemen, ad- 
vancing and retreating amongst the Indians, see each 
other. As soon, however, as the Spaniards realised that 
the horsemen had come up, they charged quickly upon 
the Indians, who immediately began to fly, and pursued 
them for half a league. The Captain, seeing that the 
Indians were in full flight, and that nothing remained 
to be done, and that his troops were very fatigued, gave 
the order that all should collect in some farmhouses near 
by; and, when they were assembled, twenty were found 
to be wounded, of whom no one died, nor did anyone 
who had been wounded the day before. Thus assembled, 
and the wounded cared for, we returned to our camp, 
carrying with us two Indians whom we had captured, 
whom the Captain ordered to be liberated,'and sent letters 
by them to the caciques, telling them that, if they would 
come to him, he would pardon them the offence which 
they had committed, and they would be his friends. 

That same afternoon two who seemed to be principal In- 
dians ^ came, saying that they were very sorry Results of 
for the past, and that those caciques besought the Hos- 
him to pardon them, and not to do any further tilities at 
injury nor kill any more of their people, for 

« The first messengers seemed from their dress to be slaves, 
and though their gifts of chickens, smoked fish, and maize-cakes, were 

152 Letters of Cortes 

there were as many as two huntlrcd ami twenty men slain. 
They also said that the past should be the past, and hence- 
forward they wished to be vassals of those Princes of 
whom, he had told them, giving and holding themselves 
as such, and that they would acknowledge and bind 
themselves to serve them whenever they should be com- 
manded to do so in the name of Your Majesties. Thus 
peace was made and agreed upon, and the Captain asked 
the said Indians, through the interpreter whom we had 
with us, who were the people who had taken part in the 
battle, and they answered that they came from eight 
pro\4nces, and according to their counting they were in 
all forty thousand men, ^ and that they knew perfectly 
well how to count up to that number. Your Royal 

accepted, and they were given some glass beads in return, they were 
sent back to say that if their people wanted peace the chiefs must 
come themselves, as the Spaniards could not treat with slaves. Some 
thirty head-men appeared the next day, bringing the usual present of 
provisions, and asking permission to bury and cremate their dead, 
offering to conclude peace the following day. This was agreed to, 
and the dead were buried, or burned according to the usage of each 
tribe. At noon the next day, the chiefs appeared, and in the conversa- 
tion Jeronimo de Aguilar acted as interpreter. Cortes adroitly ar- 
ranged a show of gun firing and horsemanship to impress them, and he 
threw all the blame for the fighting upon them, but declared that, if 
they were ready for peace his sovereigns would regard them as friends, 
and favour and help them. Negotiations terminated the next day, 
when an assembly of all the neighbouring chiefs acknowledged them- 
selves vassals of the Spanish king, giving Cortes presents of gold and 
slaves. Amongst these latter was Marina, of whom further notice 
will appear. 

' Andres de Tapia fixes the number at 48,000, but these figures 
seem hardly possible, and Orozco y Berra observes that they must be 
taken as representing the idea of multitude, rather than an actual 
counting. This decisive battle, which took place on March 25th, 
became known as the battle of Ceutla, and in Gomara's chronicle, 
as well as in Tapia's narrative, and that of others, the victory was 
attributed to the miraculous inter\-ention of St. James, the patron 
of Spain, or of St. Peter the patron of Cortes. Bemal Diaz says that 
it may be as Gomara describes, and that "los glorias apostolos Senor 
Santiago and Senor San Pedro " did appear, but he, miserable sinner, 
was not worthy to behold the apparition. 

First Letter 153 

Highnesses may believe for certain, that this battle was 
won, rather by the will of God, than by our forces, be- 
cause weak was the defence of our four hundred against 
forty thousand warriors. 

After we had become good friends, they gave us, during 
the four or five days we still remained there, some one 
hundred and forty dollars of gold in pieces of all kinds, and 
very thin, and so much esteemed by them that it seemed 
their country was very poor in gold, because it appeared 
certain that the little they possessed had come from other 
parts in trading. The land is very good and provisions are 
abundant, both in maize, as well as fruits, fish, and other 
things which they eat. This town is situated on the 
banks of the afore-named river, about which extends a 
plain, where there are many farms and cultivated fields, 
such as they have. He [Cortes] reproved them for the 
evil they did in adoring their idols and gods, and he 
made them understand that they should come to the 
knowledge of our Very Holy Faith, and he left them a 
large wooden cross set up on an elevation, and they 
remained very satisfied, saying they would hold it 
in great veneration, and would adore it ; thus these In- 
dians became our friends and vassals of Your Royal 

The said Captain Fernando Cortes left there, continuing 
his voyage, and we arrived at the port, and bay, which 
is called San Juan, where the above-named Captain 
Grijalba traded, of which extensive relation has hereto- 
fore been made to Your Majesty. Immediately upon 
our arrival, the natives came to inquire what caravels 
were those which had arrived, and as it was very late 
that day, almost night, the Captain remained quietly 
in the caravel, and ordered that no one should go on 
shore. Early the next day the Captain landed with a 
great part of the people of his armada, and found two 
of the principal Indians there, to whom he presented 

154 Letters of Cortes 

certain of his own valuable garments, and, speaking to 
them through the interpreters, he gave them to understand 
that he hail come to these parts, by command of Your 
Royal Highnesses, to speak to them, and to tell them 
what they should do to advance your service. For this 
he besought them that they should immediately go to 
their town, and call the cacique, or caciques who might 
be there, to come and speak to him; and, to ensure their 
coming, he gave them two shirts for those caciques, and 
two jackets, one of silk and one of velvet, also various 
caps, and some hawk's bells; so they went with these 
valuables to the said caciques. The next day a little before 
noon one of the caciques of that town came, to whom the 
said Captain spoke, and made him understand, through 
the interpreter, that he had not come to do them any 
hurt nor injury, but to inform them that they were 
to be vassals of Your Majesties, and how they were to 
serve them and to pay tribute of what they had in their 
country, as did all who are such. And the cacique an 
swered that he was very satisfied to be such, and to obey, 
and that he would be much pleased to serve them, and 
to have such high Princes for lords as the Captain had 
made them understand Your Royal Majesties were. Im- 
mediately afterwards, the Captain told him that, since 
he was so well disposed towards his King and Lord, he 
would see what great favours Your Majesties would 
grant him in the future; and, saying this, he made him 
put on a shirt of hoUand, and a robe of velvet, and a 
girdle of gold, with w^hich the said cacique was much 
pleased and happy. He told the Captain then, that he 
wanted to go to his country, and asked him to wait for 
him there, for the next day he would come back, and 
bring him such things as he had, so that we might more 
fully imderstand his good will towards the service of Your 
Royal Highnesses. Thus he took his leave, and de- 
parted; and, the next day, the said cacique returned, as 

First Letter 155 

he had agreed, and spreading a white cloth before the 
Captain, he offered him certain precious jewels of gold, 
which he placed upon it; of these, and the others which 
we afterwards obtained, we make relation to Your 
Majesties in a memorial which our procurators take 
with them. 

After the said cacique had taken leave of us, and 
returned satisfied to his house, some of those noble 
persons ^ who came in this armada, gentle- Decision 
men, and sons of gentlemen, zealous in the to 

service of our Lord, and of Your Royal High- Colonise 
nesses, and desirous for the exaltation of your royal 
crown, and the extension of your dominions, and the in- 
crease of your revenues, assembled and spoke with the Cap- 
tain Fernando Cortes, saying that this land was good and 
that, judging by the sample of gold which that cacique had 
brought, it was reasonable to believe that it must be 
very rich, and that he and all his Indians were well dis- 
posed towards us. For these reasons, it seemed to us 
that it was not advantageous for Your Majesties' service 
to do as Diego Velasquez had ordered the said Captain 
Fernando Cortes to do (which was to trade for all the 
gold we could, and, having obtained it, to return to the 
island of Fernandina, in order that the said Diego Velas- 
quez, and the said Captain mightpr ofit exclusively by it, 

'The armada was composed of eleven vessels, of which the 
largest, on which Cortes sailed, was of loo tonels, the tonel being some- 
what more than one ton. The number of men is variously given by 
different authorities, but, in the memorandum of Cortes at the time 
of his residencia in 1534, it is stated that there were 530 men. The 
persons of nobility must be sought among the leaders and captains 
who were Pedro de Alvarado, Gonzalo de Sandoval, Francisco de 
Orozco, Alonso Hernandez Puertocarrero, Diego de Ordaz, Alonzo 
de Avila, Juan de Escalante, Francisco de Montejo, Francisco de 
Morla, Francisco de Saucedo, Juan Velasquez de Leon, and Cristobal 
de Olid. Pedro de Alvarado had two brothers, Jorge and Gomez, 
and a natural brother, called Juan, and there may have been some other 
adventurers of good origin amongst the company (Orozco y Berra; 
tom, iv., cap. iii.). 

15^5 Letters of Cortes 

and that it seemed better to all of us that a town should 
be founded and peopled there in the name of Your Royal 
Highnesses. In this, there should be a court of justice, 
so that you would have your jurisdiction in this country 
just as in your kingdoms and dominions, since possibly 
this country, being peopled by Spaniards, in addition 
to the increase of the kingdoms and dependencies, and 
the incomes of Your Majesties, you might show some 
favours to us, and to the colonists who would come there 

Ha\nng decided this, we all agreed with one accord 
and mind, and we made a requirement to the said Captain, 
in which we told him that, as he saw how agreeable it 
would be to the service of God, Our Lord, and of Your 
Majesties, that this country should be peopled (giving 
the reasons which we have heretofore recounted to Your 
Highnesses), we required him to cease trading, as he 
was doing, inasmuch as it was equivalent to destroying 
the country to a great extent, and that Your Majesties 
would thus be but poorly serv^ed; and that, for the same 
reason, we asked and required him to name alcaldes, and 
municipal authorities, in the name of Your Royal High- 
nesses, for the town which was to be founded and built 
by us. This was accompanied by intimations in legal 
form that we would protest against him if he acted other- 
wise. This requirement having been made to the said 
Captain, he replied that he would give his answer the 
next day; and the said Captain, having seen how all that 
we had asked him to do would be profitable to the service 
of Your Royal Highnesses, answered us the next day, 
saying that he was exclusively devoted to the service of 
Your Majesties, and that, \\'ithout considering the profit 
which might result to him from carrying on the trading 
as planned, so as to recover the great expenses which 
had been sustained out of his property in fitting out that 
armada with the said Diego Velasquez, but rather putting 

First Letter 157 

aside everything else, he was glad and satisfied to do 
whatever we had asked him to do, inasmuch as it was 
advantageous to the service of Your Royal Highnesses. 
Immediately, therefore, he began with great pQ^^dation 
diligence to found and people a town, to which of 
the name was given of Rica Villa de la Vera ^^^^ ^"^"^ 
Cruz. ^ He named .those of us who will sign at the 
endas alcaldes and municipal officers of the said town 

' The legal formalities so scrupulously observed, were a trifle 
farcical in this particular instance, and Cortes doubtless listened to the 
reading of the "requirements" with a solemn exterior, but with his 
"tongue in his cheek." The narrative here is clear. He resigned the 
authority he had received from Velasquez, the royal governor of Cuba, 
into the hands of the municipal authorities he had himself appointed 
in response to the popular demand, and who thereby likewise became 
royal officials. They in their turn exercised their powers to appoint 
him Captain-General, and Chief Justice, of the new colony, and thus, 
by due form of law, Cortes found himself, within twenty-four hours after 
his abdication, installed as the recognised dispenser of civil justice, 
and as military commander. He showed a becoming reluctance to 
accept the nomination, and finally had all the appearance of yielding 
to an irresistible expression of the popular will. Bernal Diaz quotes 
to the point an old Spanish proverb : Tu mi lo ruegas y yo mi lo 
quiero. The partisans of Cortes, led by the Alvarados, Olid, Avila, 
Escalante, and Puertocarrero, secretly formed a party among the 
men and propounded the new plan of colonisation for the crown, in 
substitution for that of merely trading in the interest of Diego Velas- 
quez, arguing that he, Velasquez would get the lion's share of the 
profits, on their return to Cuba, while they would be about as poor as 
when they started. This idea won adherents, but was not slow in 
reaching the knowledge of the friends of Velasquez, who protested 
vigorously against such a betrayal of confidence, and insisted that 
they should return to Cuba with the treasure, and make their report 
to the governor. Cortes feigned to accede to their view, and perplexed 
them greatly by giving immediate orders to embark the next day. 
No sooner were these orders given, than the "imperialist" group, 
to describe them by a modern term, held a second meeting, in 
which it was resolved that their allegiance and duty were to the crown, 
that being already in practical possession of a rich strip of coast, and 
well received by the Indians, since they had proved their superiority, 
they should rather consider the conversion of the natives, and the 
extension of His Majesty's dominions, than the mere trading profits 
of the governor of Cuba, and hence that they should found there a port 
and city in the name of the sovereigns, who would certainly approve 

158 Letters of Cortes 

rccci\'ing from us the oath in the name of Your 
Royal Highnesses, \vith the solemnity customary in such 
cases; after which we assembled the next day in our 
council and assembly chamber, and, being thus assembled, 
we sent to summon the Captain Fernando Cortes, and 
we asked him in the name of Your Royal Highnesses 
to show us the powers and instructions, which the said 
Diego Velasquez had given him for coming to these 
parts. He immediately sent for these, and showed them 
to us, and, having been seen and read by us, and well 
examined according to the best of our understanding, 
it seemed to us that, by those powers and instructions, 
the said Captain Fernando Cortes, had no longer any 
authority, and that, they having expired, he could no 
longer exercise the office of justice, or of captain. 

It seemed to us, Very Excellent Princes, that, for the 
sake of peace and concord amongst us, and in order to 
govern us well, it was necessary to install a person for 

when they came to understand the circumstances. The Velasquez 
party seems to have oflEered no open resistance. 

The elaborate name of Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz was given to the 
new settlement, the "rica" being suggested by the rich character of the 
soil, and the "Vera Cruz" by the date of their landing, which was a 
Good Friday, the day when the Cross is especially venerated. 

The transformation scene was very complete. Cortes, from being the 
semi-rebellious captain of a trading fleet became the recognised repre- 
sentative of the King of Spain in Mexico ; the volunteer soldiers of the 
expedition became a militia; municipal officers, and royal officials 
sprang into existence, who acknowledged no superior but the King, 
while Diego Velasquez was eliminated from the scheme of things 

The partisans of Velasquez, though in a minority, still argued that 
Cortes's election was irregular, because they had not taken part in it, 
nor had it been confirmed, either by the Jeronymite Fathers, or the 
governor of Cuba. This incipient sedition was characteristically 
met, by Cortes oflEering as many as were dissatisfied permission to 
re-embark, and return to Cuba, and, at the same time, to demonstrate 
the reality of the new state of things, he ordered the Alguacil Mayor 
to arrest Juan Velasquez, Diego de Ordaz, Pedro Escudero, and others 
of the more active agitators, and to imprison them on the captain's 
ship. This drastic move had the desired effect upon the waverers. 

First Letter 159 

Your Royal service to act in the name of Your Majesties 
in the said town, and in these parts as Chief Justice, 
and Captain, and head, whom we could all respect and 
obey until we might give account of everything to Your 
Royal Highnesses, so that you could provide as best 
suited your service. Recognising that to no one could 
we better give such a charge than to the said Fernando 
Cortes, because, besides being a most suitable person, he 
is moreover very zealous in the service of Your Majesties, 
as well as being very experienced in these parts and 
islands, of which he has always given good proofs, for 
having spent all that he possessed to serve Your Majesties 
in this armada, and heeded so little (as we have already 
related) his possible gains and profits from continuing to 
trade, we therefore elected him, in the name of Your 
Royal Highnesses, to the ofhce of Justice and Superior 
Alcalde, receiving from him the oath which is required in 
such cases. And, having done this as profitable to the ser- 
vice of Your Majesty, we received him in Your Royal name 
in our Council and Assembly Chamber, as Chief Justice 
and Governor of Your Royal arms, and thus he is, and 
will continue, until Your Majesties provide what is best 
for your service. 

We have wished to fully relate all this to Your Royal 
Highnesses, that you may know what has been done 
here, and in what condition we are living here. 

Having done as stated, and, being all assembled in 
our Council Chamber, we agreed to write to Your Ma- 
jesties, and to send you, in addition to the one-fifth part 
which belongs to your rents, according to Your Royal 
prescriptions, all the gold, and silver, and valuables which 
we have obtained in this country, on account of its being 
the first, and above which we keep nothing for ourselves. 
We place this at the disposition of Your Royal Highnesses, 
as a proof of our very good will for your service, as we 
have heretofore done with our persons and property, 

i6o Letters of Cortes 

and, having agreed upon this amongst ourselves, wc 
selected as our procurators' Alonso Hernandez Porto- 
carrcro, and Francisco de Montejo, whom we send to 
Your Majesties with all this, that they may kiss Your 
Royal hands on our behalf, and that, in our names, and 
in that of this town, and its Council, they may pray Your 
Royal Highnesses to favour us as may be agreeable to 
God, and to Your Majesties, and for the coming good of 
this town, as will appear at greater length from the in- 
structions which we have given them. We humbly beg 
Your Majesties, with all the respect which is becoming, 
to receive them, to give them Your Royal hands to kiss 
on our behalf, and to grant them all the favours they 
may ask and supplicate on behalf of this Council, and 
ourselves, because, in doing this Your Majesties, besides 
rendering service to Our Lord, and this town and Council, 
will bestow on us the special favour which we daily hope 
that Your Royal Highnesses will grant us. 

In one chapter of this letter, we have already said 
that we would send an account to Your Royal High- 
Description nesses, by which Your Majesties might be 
of the perfectly informed of everything about this 

Country country, its condition, riches, the people who 
possess it, and of the law and sect, rites and cere- 
monies which they observe. This country, Most Potent 
Princes, where we now are in the name of Your 
Majesties, has fifty leagues of coast on the one side 
and the other of this town, the seacoast being low 
with many sand-hills, some of which are two leagues 
or more in length. The country beyond these sand-hills 
is level, with many fertile plains, in which are such beauti- 
ful river banks, that in all Spain there can be found no 
better; these are as grateful to the sight as they are pro- 
ductive in everything sown in them, and very orderly and 
well kept with walks, and facilities for grazing all kinds 

> See Appendix III. at close of Letter. 

First Letter i6i 

of animals. There is every kind of game in this country, 
and animals, and birds such as are familiar to us, — deer, 
fallow deer, wolves, foxes, quails, doves, and pigeons, 
and two or three kinds of hares and rabbits, — so that 
there is no difference between this country and Spain, 
as regards birds and animals; there are lions and tigers^ 
about five leagues from the sea, in some places, and others 
are very beautiful [word missing]. There is, moreover, 
a great range of very beautiful mountains, some of them 
very high, amongst which one ^ very greatly exceeds all 
the others, and from it can be discovered and seen a great 
part of the sea and land ; and it is so high that if the day 
is not very clear you cannot see or distinguish the summit 
of it, because one half of it is all covered with clouds; 
and sometimes when the day is very clear the peak of it 
can be seen above the said clouds, and it is so white that 
we judge it to be snow, and the natives even tell us that 
it is snow, but as we have not seen it well, although we 
have been very near to it, and because this region is so 
hot, we do not affirm it to be snow. We will endeavour 
to know and see it, as well as many other things about 
which we have information, so as to send a true account 
to Your Royal Highnesses of the wealth of gold and 
silver and stones, and we judge that Your Majesties 
may order it to be examined according to the samples 
of all which we remit to Your Royal Highnesses. Ac- 
cording to our judgment, it is credible that there is 
everything in this country which existed in that from 
whence Solomon is said to have brought the gold for the 

1 The largest beasts of prey in Mexico were the puma, the jaguar, 
and the ocelot ; lions and tigers there were none. 

» Orizaba ; the usual Indian name for the volcano was Citlalte- 
petl, meaning star-mountain, though they also called it Zenctepatl, and 
Pojauhtecatl. According to Humboldt, its known period of greatest 
activity was from iS45toi566;he also notes that both this crater, and 
that of Popocatepetl, incline towards the south-east. His measure- 
ment of Orizaba is 5395 metres (Essai Politique, vol. i.). Ferrer's 
measurement is 5450 metres. 

VOL. I. — II 

1 62 Letters of Cortes 

Temple, but, as we have been here so short a time, we 
have not been able to see more than the distance of five 
leagues inland, and about ten or twelve leagues of the 
coast length on each side, which we have explored since 
we landed; although from the sea it must be more, and 
we saw much more while sailing. 

The people who inhabit this country, from the Island 
of Cozumel, and the Cape of Yucatan to the place where 

Description "^^ ^°"^ ^^^' ^^^ ^ people of middle size, with 
of the bodies and features well proportioned, except 

Indians that in each province their customs differ, 
some piercing the ears, and putting large and ugly ob- 
jects in them, and others piercing the nostrils down 
to the mouth, and putting in large round stones like 
mirrors, and others piercing their under lips down as 
far as their gums, and hanging from them large round 
stones, or pieces of gold, so weighty that they pull 
down the nether lip, and make it appear very deformed. 
The clothing which they wear is like long veils, very 
curiously worked. The men wear breech-cloths about 
their bodies, and large mantles, very thin, and painted 
in the style of Moorish draperies. The women of the 
ordinary people wear, from their waists to their feet, 
clothes also very much painted, some covering their 
breasts and leaving the rest of the body uncovered. 
The superior women, however, wear very thin shirts of 
cotton, worked and made in the style of rochets. Their 
food is maize and grain, as in the other Islands, and 
potuyuca, as they eat it in the Island of Cuba, and they 
eat it broiled, since they do not make bread of it; and 
they have their fishing, and hunting, and they roast 
many chickens, like those of the Tierra Firma, which are 
as large as peacocks. ^ 

There are some large towns well laid out, the houses 
being of stone, and mortar when they have it. The 

> These were turkeys, which were unknown in Europe 

First Letter 163 

apartments are small, low, and in the Moorish style, 
and, when they cannot find stone, they make them of 
adobes, whitewashing them, and the roof is of straw. 
Some of the houses of the principal people are very cool, 
and have many apartments, for we have seen more than 
five courts in one house, and the apartments very well 
distributed, each principal department of service being 
separate. Within them they have their wells and reser- 
voirs for water, and rooms for the slaves and dependents, 
of whom they have many. Each of these chiefs has 
at the entrance of his house, but outside of it, a large 
court- yard, and in some there are two and three and four 
very high buildings, -with steps leading up to them, and 
they are very well built; and in them they have their 
mosques and prayer places, and very broad galleries on 
all sides, and there they keep the idols which they worship, 
some being of stone, some of gold, and some of wood, and 
they honour and serve them in such wise, and with so 
many ceremonies, that much paper would be required 
to give Your Royal Highnesses an entire and exact de_ 
scription of all of them. These houses and mosques, 
wherever they exist, are the largest and best built in the 
town, and they keep them very well adorned, decorated 
with feather-work and well-woven stuffs, and with all 
manner of ornaments. Every day, before they under- 
take any work, they burn incense in the said mosques, 
and sometimes they sacrifice their own persons, some 
cutting their tongues and others their ears, and some 
hacking the body with knives ; and they offer up to their 
idols all the blood which flows, sprinkling it on all sides 
of those mosques, at other times throwing it up towards 
the heavens, and practising many other kinds of cere- 
monies, so that they undertake nothing without first 
offering sacrifice there. 

They have another custom, horrible, and abominable, 
and deserving punishment, and which we have never be- 

164 Letters of Cortes 

fore seen in any other place, and it is this, that, as 
Human often as they have anything to ask of their 
Sacrifices idols, in order that their petition may be 
more acceptable, they take many boys or girls, and 
even grown men and women, and in the presence 
of those idols they open their breasts, while they 
are alive, and take out the hearts and entrails, and 
bum the said entrails and hearts before the idols, offer- 
ing that smoke in sacrifice to them. ^ Some of us who 
have seen this say that [it is the most terrible and 
frightful thing to behold that has ever been seen. So 
frequently, and so often do these Indians do this, ac- 
cording to our information, and partly by what we have 
seen in the short time we are in this country, that no 
year passes in which they do not kill and sacrifice fifty 
souls in each mosque; and this is practised, and held 
as customary, from the Isle of Cozumel to the country 
in which we are now settled. Your Majesties may rest 
assured that, according to the size of the land, which to 
us seems very considerable, and the many mosques which 
they have, there is no year, as far as we have until now 
discovered and seen, when they do not kill and sacrifice 
in this manner some three or four thousand souls. Now 
let Your Royal Highnesses consider if they ought not to 
prevent so great an evil and crime, and certainly God, 
Our Lord, "^oll be weU pleased, if, through the command 
of Your Royal Highnesses, these peoples should be initi- 
ated and instructed in our Very Holy Catholic Faith, 
and the devotion, faith, and hope, which they have in 
their idols, be transferred to the Divine Omnipotence of 
God; because it is certain, that, if they served God with 
the same faith, and fervour, and diligence, they would 
surely work miracles. 

It should be believed, that it is not without cause 
that God, Our Lord, has permitted that these parts 

' See Appendix IV. at close of Letter. 

' First Letter 165 

should be discovered in the name of Your Royal High- 
nesses, so that this fruit and merit before God should 
be enjoyed by Your Majesties, of having instructed these 
barbarian people, and brought them through your com- 
mands to the True Faith. As far as we are able to know 
them, we believe that, if there were interpreters and 
persons who could make them understand the truth of 
the Faith, and their error, many, and perhaps all, would 
shortly quit the errors which they hold, and come to the 
true knowledge; because they live civilly and reasonably, 
better than any of the other peoples found in these parts. 
To endeavour to give to Your Majesties all the par- 
ticulars about this country and its people, might oc- 
casion some errors in the account, because much of it we 
have not seen, and only know it through information 
given us by the natives ; therefore we do not undertake to 
give more than what may be accepted by Your Highnesses 
as true. Your Majesties may, if you deem proper, give 
this account as true to Our Very Holy Father, in order 
that diligence and good system may be used in effecting 
the conversion of these people, because it is hoped that 
great fruit and much good may be obtained ; also that His 
Holiness may approve and allow that the wicked and 
rebellious, being first admonished, may be punished and 
chastised as enemies of Our Holy Catholic Faith, which 
will be an occasion of punishment and fear to those who 
may be reluctant in receiving knowledge of the Truth; 
thereby, that the great evils and injuries they practise 
in the service of the Devil, will be forsaken. Because, 
besides what we have just related to Your Majesties 
about the men, and women, and children, whom they 
kill and offer in their sacrifices, we have learned, and 
been positively informed, that they are all sodomites, 
and given to that abominable sin. ^ In all this, we 

» Clavigero denounces the blameworthy faciUty with which this 
vice was imputed to the Mexicans in general, by some of the early writers 

i66 Txtters of Cortes 

beseech Your Majesties to order such measures taken 
as are most profitable to the service of God, and to that 
of Your Royal Highnesses, and so that we who are here 
in your sers'icc may also be favoured and recompensed. 
Amongst other things which are contained in our 
, , . instructions to our procurators, whom we send 

Information tt- i 

Against to \ our Highnesses, one is to pray Your 
Diego Majesties on our own behalf, that you should 

Velasquez -^^ j^^ ^.^^^ give, or make concession in these 

parts, to Diego Velasquez Lieutenant Admiral in the 
Island of Fernandina of the adelaniamiento, nor the 
perpetual governorship, nor any other, nor the charge 
of justice; and if any such has been given to him, to 
order it to be revoked, because it is not profitable to 
the service of Your Royal Crown that the said Diego 
Velasquez, nor any other person, should have authority, 
or any other perpetual concession of any sort, save as may 
be the will of Your Majesties, in this country of Your 
Royal Highnesses, inasmuch as it is, as far as we can 
foresee and hope, very rich. Moreover, far from profiting 
Your Majesties' service, should the said Diego Velasquez 
be pro\nded ^^ath some office, we foresee that we, the 
vassals of Your Royal Highnesses, who have begim to 
colonise, and to live in this country, will be ill-treated 
by him, because we are convinced that, what has already 

and, in accord with other authorities, asserts that while it existed 
amongst the Panuchesi, the only evidence of it elsewhere was the severe 
laws enacted for its punishment. He does not hesitate to say, that the 
accusation was made by some of the Spaniards to palliate their own 
excesses, — a peculiarly heinous tactic. The friars, who were later 
in the best position to know the morals and customs of the Indians, 
unanimously repudiate the charge. Amongst modem authorities, 
Orozco y Berra combats the imputation as unfounded. Bernal Diaz 
records that obscene images were found in the temples at Cozumel, and 
the A^ionymous Conqueror describes in language which I do not trans- 
late, the debauchery common amongst the Indians of Panuco, and gives 
some singular details of their different ways of intoxicating themselves, 
similar to nothing I have ever heard of amongst any people, ancient 
or modem (Apud Icazbalceta, Doc. Ined. II Modo di Sacrificare, etc.). 

First Letter 167 

been done in Your Majesties' service, in sending this 
gift of gold and silver, and valuables, which we have 
obtained here in this country, and now send, would 
not have been approved by him. This clearly appears 
through four of his servants who have come here, and 
who, when they perceived our wish to send all to Your 
Royal Highnesses, as we do, declared that it would be 
better to send it to Diego Velasquez, and otherwise op- 
posed their being sent to Your Majesties. For this we 
ordered them to be imprisoned, and they will remain 
prisoners until justice decides, after which we shall relate 
to Your Majesties what we have done with them. ^ So, 
because we have seen what the said Diego Velasquez has 
done, and our experience of it, we fear that, if he should 
come to this country with any commission, he would 
treat us ill, as he has done in the Island of Femandina, 
during the time that he had charge of its government, 
doing justice to none except as he pleased, and punishing 
those whom he chose, from anger or passion, but not 
from justice or reason. He has thus destroyed many 
good subjects by reducing them to great poverty, in re- 
fusing to give them any Indians, and taking them all 

' Bemaldino de Coria, one of the conspirators, weakened at the last 
moment, and betrayed the plot to seize a boat, with provisions, and 
to put off to Cuba, for the purpose of warning Diego Velasquez of the 
sailing of the envoys, so that he might intercept them. Cortes did not 
mince matters; he promptly hanged Diego Cermeno, and Juan Escu- 
dero. The latter was the same alguacil who had captured him before 
the church in Santiago, where he had taken sanctuary during his quar- 
rel with Velasquez, and had imprisoned him on the ship in the harbour. 
Gonzalo de Umbria had his feet cut off, and two hundred lashes were 
administered to each of the others, except the priest, Juan Diaz, whose 
cloth protected him. Gomara suppresses the amputation of Umbria' s 
feet, and says he was whipped with the others. Bemal Diaz reports 
that Cortes exclaimed, when he signed the warrant for these 
punishments, "who would not rather be unable to write, than to 
have to sign away the lives of men !" but the old soldier shrewdly 
adds, that he believes most judges from the days of Nero down have 
expressed the same sentiment (Orozco y Berra, vol. iv., cap. viii.). 

1 68 Letters of Cortes 

for himself, and in taking all the gold which they had 
obtained \\'ithout giving them any share of it. He also 
has interests w-ith dishonest men, for his own advantage, 
and by the mere fact of his having the Governorship, 
and power of distribution, nobody dares to oppose him, 
knowing and fearing that he can ruin them. Your 
Majesties have no information about this, nor has there 
ever been any account made of it, because the procurators, 
who have gone heretofore from the said Island, are 
creatures and servants of his hands, whom he holds by 
giving them Indians at their pleasure; and the procura- 
tors, who come from the smaller towns to attend to the 
affairs of the communities, have to do as he wishes, be- 
cause he buys them up with Indians. When such pro- 
curators return to their towns, and are asked to give an 
account of what they have done, the people declare that 
poor men should not be sent as procurators, because, 
for one cacique whom Diego Velasquez gives them, they 
wiU do everything he wants. The municipal officers and 
alcaldes who have Indians dare not speak to, or reprove, 
the procurators, who have done what they ought not 
to have done out of compliance to Diego Velasquez, for 
fear that the said Diego Velasquez might take away their 
Indians. In this, and other things, it is very good [word 
missing in MS.] from which Your Royal Highnesses 
may see, that all the accounts which the Island of Fer- 
nandina has made of what Diego Velasquez has done, 
and the favours which they asked for him, are on account 
of the Indians he has given to the procurators, and not 
because the communities are satisfied or wish such things ; 
rather would they desire that those procurators were 
punished. The above being notorious to all the inhabi- 
tants and householders of this town of Vera Cruz, they 
assembled with the procurator of this council, and have 
asked and required us, by their reqiiirements, signed 
with their names, that, in the name of all, we should beg 

First Letter 169 

Your Majesties not to provide the said Diego Velasquez 
with the said, or any other, commission, but rather to 
order him to give his residencia, ^ and to deprive 
him of the charge of the Island of Fernandina. By 
taking his residencta, the above statements would be 
shown to be true, for which we beseech Your Majesties 
to name a judge and inquisitor, in order to make an in- 
vestigation of aU which we have related to Your Royal 
Highnesses, not only about the Island of Cuba, but also 
elsewhere ; for our intention is to prove things from which 
Your Majesties may judge if it be justice or conscience 
that he should have royal charges in these parts, or in the 
others where he at present resides. 

In the same manner, the procurator, and the inhabi- 
tants and householders of this town, have asked us in the 
said petition that we should supplicate Your Majesty in 
their name to provide a warrant and Royal Provision to 
be given in favour of Fernando Cortes, Captain, and Su- 
perior Justice of Your Royal Highnesses, in order that 
he may govern us with justice, until this country shall 
be conquered and pacified, and for such time as may ap- 
pear best to Your Majesties, and be best for your service; 
for they recognise in him such a person as is fit for it. 
Which petition and requirement we send with these, our 
procurators, to Your Majesties, and we all humbly sup- 
plicate Your Royal Highnesses, that you will grant not 
only this, but all the other favours, which in the name 
of this council and town may be petitioned by the said 
procurators, and that you will regard us as your most 

» This was done by means of a commission, with full powers 
to inquire into all administrative acts of a governor, and to receive 
and decide upon all complaints against him. Upon the arrival of the 
commissioners, the governor and his officials resigned their authority 
and badges of office into their hands, pending the outcome of the 
investigation. The residencta was not of itself an indignity, nor did it 
necessarily imply a want of confidence in the governor, but it was the 
most effective check the home government had upon the colonial 

170 Letters of Cortes 

loyal vassals, such as we have been and always will be. 
The gold, and silver, and jewels, and valuables, and the 
rodelas, and the wearing apparel, which we send by the 
procurators to Your Royal Highnesses, and which, over 
and above the one-fifth which belongs to Your Majesty, 
Captain Fernando Cortes, and this council, pray you to 
accept, go with this memorial, signed by them and by 
the said procurators, as Your Royal Highnesses may see 
from it.' 

« The first treasure sent to Spain contained the following curious 

.■\ gold necklace composed of seven pieces, with 185 small emeralds 
set in it, and 232 gems, like rubies, from which hung 27 small bells of 
gold, and some pearls. 

Another necklace of four pieces of gold, with 102 red gems, like 
rubies, 172 emeralds, 10 fine pearls, set in it, and 26 little golden bells 

Two wheels, one of gold representing the sun, the other of silver 
bearing the image of the moon, 28 hands in circumference, and bearing 
various figures of animals, and other devices, beautifully worked in 

A head-dress of wood, decorated with gold and gems, with 25 golden 
bells pendant ; instead of a plume it had a green bird, whose eyes, beak, 
and feet, were of gold. 

A gold bracelet; a small sceptre with two rings of gold, set with 
pearls at the ends. 

Four tridents, tied with feathers of different colours, and pearl 
points tied with gold thread. 

Several deerskin shoes, sewn with gold thread, and having soles of 
brilliant blue and white stones. 

A shield of wood and leather, decorated with hanging bells of gold, 
and having gold plates in the centre, carved with the figure of the god of 
war, surrounded by four heads of a lion, a tiger, an eagle, and an owl, 
represented with their hair and feathers. 

Several skins, tanned with the hair and feathers on them. 

Twenty-four curious and beautiful golden shields, decorated with 
feathers and small pearls, four others of feathers and silver. 

Four fish, two ducks, and other birds, made of gold. 

Two sea-shells, imitated in gold, and a large crocodile, girt with 
golden threads. 

A large mirror, and several small ones, of gold. 

Several head-dresses, and crowns of feathers and gold, ornamented 
with pearls and gems. 

First Letter 171 

From the Rica Villa de la Vera Cruz, on the tenth 
July, 1519. 

Several large plumes of beautiful feathers, of various colours, 
spangled with gold and small pearls. 

.Several fans; some of gold and feathers, others of feathers alone, 
but all very rich. 

A variety of cotton robes; some all white, others chequered white 
and black, or red, green, yellow, and blue, the outside being shaggy, 
and the inside smooth, without colour. 

A number of coats, handkerchiefs, bedcovers, tapestries, and carpets 
of cotton stuffs. 

There were several Mexican books, written in hierogl3nphics, 
on their paper, which was about the consistency of light pasteboard. 
Peter Martyr describes them as folding tablets, and says of the writing, 
"Sunt characteres a nostris valde dissimilis, Egypteas fere forntas cemu- 
lantiir" (De Insults nuper inventis). 

Gomara says the paper was made of cotton, and a kind of gum, or 
paste; sometimes also of aloe leaves; Peter Mart)nr describes it as made 
of fine crushed bark, kneaded together with a gum. 




The first attack, of which Cortes makes no mention was made 
at Catoche, just before dawn, March 6th. The Indians fought with 
great fury, in spite of the fire-arms which they heard for the first time, 
and were repulsed only with difficulty, after they had wounded fifteen 
Spaniards. Bemal Diaz relates that fifteen Indians were killed, and 
two were captured, who were afterwards baptised Christians, under 
the name of Melchor, and Julian, by the chaplain Fray Alonzo Gon- 
zalez. The Spaniards looted the temples and houses of their idols 
and golden ornaments. The Indians at Champoton repeated in- 
quiringly the words "Castelan? Castelan?" and, by gestures, asked 
if the strangers came from the East. Orozco y Berra (vol. iv., cap. 
i.,) says that they connected the arrival of the unknown guests with 
the prophecy of Kukulcan (Quetzalcoatl) , foretelling the coming of 
bearded white men from the land of the rising sun, and also that they 
had knowledge of Spaniards, from the time of the wreck of Valdivia's 
men, whom they had probably helped to sacrifice and eat. 

The Spaniards passed an anxious night, listening to the noisy 
preparations of the Indians for battle, and in consulting vainly to 
discover some escape. At dawn, a hand-to-hand fight was fiercely 
waged, the Indians showing no fear of fire-arms, and driving the 
retreating Spaniards into the sea. Fifty Spaniards were killed, 
and one, Alonzo Bote, and a Portuguese, were captured alive. Bemal 
Diaz says that every soldier but one had from one to four 
wounds, for which the only dressing was fat taken from the dead 
Indians; he himself had three and Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba 
had twelve wounds. The name of Mala Pelea was given the place to 
commemorate this disaster. 

The Spaniards found here the crosses which excited such interest 
and speculation that later a whole literature grew up to explain them. 
Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba had also seen crosses in Cozumel 
(Bernal Diaz, cap. iii., Oviedo, lib. xvii., cap. viii.; Gomara, Hist, 
de las Indias, cap. Hi., Las Casas, Hist. Apolog., cap. cxxv.). 

The crosses found in various parts of Mexico were of several kinds. 
Those discovered in the western coast provinces, show a Buddhistic 
type, while those in the eastern parts are like either the simple Latin or 
Greek shapes. The cross at Metztitlan had the Tau form, while the 
famous one at Palenque presents no features by which it may be 
accurately classified, and has been thought to be an astronomical 


176 Letters of Cortes 

sign, or an emblem of the four winds. That the cross was an object 
of cult amongst the Indians is certain, though there is much disagree- 
ment amongst authorities as to its origin, age, and significance. Bemal 
Diaz says that if it was of Christian origin and meaning, the natives 
had forgotten them, and Oviedo, who even regarded the existence of 
these crosses as a fable, maintained that if they did exist, and the Indians 
ever had known why they venerated them, they had long since lost, 
their knowledge. (Oviedo, lib. xvii., cap. viii.). Gomara described 
the cross seen at Cozumel as the rain-god, and said that quails were 
sacrificed before it (Gomara, Hist, de las Indias, cap. liv.). 

The cross was an instrument of punishment among the Egyptians, 
Persians, Macedonians, Greeks, and Romans, as also among Buddhist 
peoples. Hardly an ancient religion is found in which some form of 
cross does not appear as a symbol. Among the Aryan races, two 
crossed sticks were the emblem of the sacred fire, produced by friction 
called pramatha, from which comes the name Prometheus, of Vedic ori- 
gin. The Tan borne by Isis, symbolised the rainy season (hence fertility) 
in Abyssinia, and, in the Egyptian cult, was the emblem of fecundation, 
(phallus of Osiris). Among the Jews, the cross had no sacred char- 
acter, but was on the contrary, the vilest instrument of capital 


This "making a requirement" was at once a naive and arrogant 
formality by which the Spaniards sought to give legal sanction to their 
high-handed invasion and claims on the Indians' submission. By a 
bull dated May 4, 1493, Alexander VI. gave in donation to the Spanish 
sovereigns all lands which might be discovered in the new world, 
defined by a line drawn one hundred leagues west of the Azores and 
Cape Verde Islands. A convention was afterwards signed between 
Spain and Portugal at Tordesillas, removing the line seventy leagues 
further westward. 

Martin V. had made a similar grant to the Portuguese in the East 
Indies in 1420, which was afterwards confirmed by Nicholas V. and 
Calixtus III. Orozco y Berra observes that, whatever may be thought 
to-day of such a concession, it is certain that it gave an undoubted 
right to the sovereigns thus favoured, which nobody, whether nation, 
king, or philosopher, disputed at that time. Pope Alexander's bull 
had the condition attached, that the natives of the countries discovered 
should be Christianised. 

Such, therefore, was the high authority on which the "require- 
ment" was based. The form of this document was invented, and 
drawn up, by Dr. Palacios Rubios, a jurisconsul, and member of the 
Royal Council, for the use of Pedrarias de Avila, coming afterwards 
to'serve in the other colonies. 

The requirement began thus: "On the part of the King Fernando, 
and of the Queen Dona Juana, his daughter. Queen of Castile, Leon, 
etc. , rulers of the barbarous natives : we their servants notify and 
make it known, to you, as best we can, that the living and eternal God, 
our Lord, created the heavens and the earth, and a man and a woman, 
of whom you, and we, and all men in the world are descendants, as well 
as all who shall come after us. However, because of the multitude 
of generations issuing from these, in the five thousand years since the 
creation of the world, it was necessary that some should go one way, 
and some another, and that they should be divided into many king- 
doms and provinces, as they could not maintain themselves in one. 
God, our Lord gave the charge of all these poeple to one called St. 
Peter, that he should be lord and superior over all men in the world, 
and that all should obey him, and that he should be the head of all the 
human race, and should love all men of whatsoever land, religion, and 
belief ; and He gave him the world for his kingdom ordering his seat to be 

VOL. I. — 12 177 

lyS Letters of Cortes 

placed in Rome, as the place best suited for ruling the world ; but he 
was permitted also to establish his seat in any other part of the world, 
and to judge and govern all peoples. Christians, Moors, Jews, Gentiles, 
and of whatsoever other sect or creed they might be'' etc. (Orozco y 
Berra, vol. iv., p. 86.). 

The provisions of the bull giving the dominion over America to 
the Spanish sovereigns then followed. 

The notary or clerk who accompanied the expedition read this 
unique document, indifferent to the fact that the Indians could not 
comprehend a word, even were they near enough to hear, and some- 
times the reading would take place with no Indians at all present. 
All scruples were satisfied by this formality, and, if submission did not 
follow, the commander dealt with the natives as with obdurate rebels 
against the royal authority. 

The way for the conquest was already prepared, and the Aztec 
historians, as well as the earliest Spanish authorities, record that, for 
a number of years, the belief that the hour of the Empire's dissolution 
was at hand had been steadily gaining ground, promoted by several 
events which were regarded as supernatural warnings of the approach- 
ing downfall. The lake of Texcoco had in 1510 risen suddenly, and 
inundated the city, without any visible cause or accompanying earth- 
quake or tempest ; one of the towers of the great teocalli was destroyed 
in 15 1 1 by a mysterious conflagration, which resisted all efforts to 
extinguish it; comets, strange lights in the skies, accompanied by shoot- 
ing stars, and weird noises, were all interpreted by the astrologers 
as portents of gloomy presage. The miraculous resurrection, three 
days after her death of Montezuma's sister, the Princess Papantzin 
who brought him a prophetic warning from her tomb, is reported at 
length by Clavigero (vol. i., p. 289). Legal proofs of this event, 
which occurred in 1509, were afterwards forwarded to the Spanish 
court. The princess is said to have lived many years, and to have 
been the first person to receive Christian baptism which she did in 
Tlatelolco, in 1524, being henceforth known as Dona Ana Papantzin, 
Her life became a model of Christian virtue. Whatever may have 
been the exact nature of this occurrence, the reported miracle doubt- 
less rests upon some fact which was interpreted by the Mexicans as 


The messengers carried also the first letter of Cortes, which has 
never since been found. It could not have differed essentially from 
the letter of the magistrates of Vera Cruz, as the one was intended 
to confirm the other. Bemal Diaz says that Cortes's letter made no 
mention of the discoveries of Cordoba, and Grijalba, and that he 
wished all such to be suppressed in the collective letter, though he was 
satisfied with its references to himself. After assisting at a mass, said 
by Fray Bartolom6 de Olmedo, the two envoys sailed on July i6, 
1519, and they took with them the royal fifth of all the gold, besides 
the other treasures which Cortes had induced the men to surrender, 
in order to make up an imposing gift to the Emperor. By Bemal 
Diaz, the sailing date is once given as the i6th of July, and in another 
place as the 6th ; Gomara gives the 26th. They were enjoined to sail by 
the channel of the Bahamas, and to avoid Cuba, but they disobeyed 
this warning, and stopped several days at Marien, where Montejo 
had a property near by. They renewed their supplies at this place, 
and showed some of the treasure to a servant, besides which, Montejo 
also wrote to a former overseer of his, Juan de Reja, who had mean- 
while passed into Diego Velasquez's service, and as through him the 
governor learned of what was happening, he promptly dispatched 
a vessel to overhaul the messengers, and bring them back; but he was 
too late. The envoys landed, early in October, 15 12, but Benito Mar- 
tin, a friend and agent of Velasquez's, was already advised of their 
coming, and lodged a complaint with the Casa de Contractacion in 
Seville, in which he described Cortes as a rebel against his superior's 
authority, and asked for the arrest of the envoys, and the sequestration 
of the letters, and the treasure. He found a ready ally in Rodriguez 
de Fonseca, Bishop of Burgos, who was omnipotent as President of 
the Royal Council for the Indies, a warm friend and supporter of 
Velasquez's, with whose family his own was about to be connected 
by a marriage. 

Peter Martyr, who was then at Court, and noted every circum- 
stance of interest, mentions the arrival of the two envoys in December 
as "recent," which might mean that he had only recently heard of it. 
All authorities agree that they got a rough reception from the Bishop 
of Burgos, and saw the Emperor only in March, 1520, after many 
difficulties. This audience was at Tordesillas, where His Majesty 
was then paying a visit to his mother, Dona Juana, before proceeding 


i8o Letters of Cortes 

to Santiago de Compostella. Hcmal Diaz would seem to be the 
original authority for the erroneous statement that Charles V. was in 
Flanders at this time, which has been repeated by many later histo- 
rians. Charles had arrived in Spain in Nov. 151 7. Peter Martyr, 
however, says that the Emperor had then already seen the gold and 
presents from Mexico, which confirms another authority, who states 
that while they were stopped by the Bishop in Seville, Martin Cortes, 
the father of Fernando, and an oflicial of the Royal Council, who was 
friendly, one Nunez contrived to forward duplicates of the despatches 
to the Emperor, and a memorial describing the Bishop of Burgos's 
behaviour, and the sequestration of the treasures. The Emperor was 
well impressed by the letters, and ordered the gifts to be sent on to 
him. He was, however, so absorbed with business of importance, 
prior to quitting the country for Germany to assume the imperial 
crown, that he left without giving a decision. The envoys followed 
him to La Coruiia and there exists, in the archives of Simancas, the 
deposition given under oath before Dr. Carbajal, member of the Royal 
Council for the Indies, by Francisco Fernandez Puertocarrero, dated, 
Coniiia, April 30, 1520, copied by Prescott, Appendix VII. The 
memorial of Benito Martin is found, according to Prescott, in the collec- 
tion of MSS., made by Don Vargas Ponce, sometime president of the 
Academy of History. 


Human sacrifices were very general among all the Mexican tribes, 
at the time of the arrival of the Spaniards, and the description here 
given of the horrible temple rites is in no way exaggerated, but is in- 
deed rather meagre. The practice is traced, by some historians, to 
the tribe of the Mexi, which descended from Tenoch, son of Iztacmix- 
coatl, the progenitor of the Nahoa family, but, with what justice, 
does not clearly appear, as this people may have received it from some 
tribe or race preceding, or allied, to them. Prisoners taken in war 
were the most highly prized victims, but failing these, or for the cele- 
bration of minor festivals, slaves were easily bought, or were offered by 
their owners for the purpose. Small infants were also commonly sold 
by their mothers, and instances of free-born men offering them- 
selves as victims, for one motive or another, were not unknown. 
The victims were frequently drugged, in such wise that they went un- 
consciously, or even willingly to the altar. If a great festival, requir- 
ing many, and choice, victims, fell in a time of peace, war would be 
undertaken upon any frivolous pretext, in order to procure the desired 

The rites were carefully prescribed, and were of the most solemn 
description. Different kinds of sacrificial stones were used for different 
classes of victims ; the usual one called techcatlis described by Velad^s 
{Rhetorica Christiana) as " Mensa quadrata magna non et splendida 
habent singula latera longitudinem trium. ulnarum non absiniilis lapideis 
illis qucB inter Romana monumenta ad hunc servantur." 

This table-shaped stone was about waist high, and stood as an in- 
verted pyramid. Six priests officiated, five of whom held the arms, 
legs, and head, of the victim, who was stretched upon the stone in such 
wise as to throw his chest well forward. These five had their faces 
and bodies painted black, with a white line around the mouth; their 
hair was bound up with a leather band, and ornamented with tufts of 
coloured papers; their vestment was a white dalmatic, striped with 

The sixth priest was the celebrant whose vestment varied according 
to the feast, or the deity, to be propitiated. His head was adorned with 
coloured plumes, and in his ears were goldenjomaments, set with green 
stones, while a blue stone was set in his under lip. Pronouncing the 
words of the ritual, he plunged a sharp knife, made of silex, into the 
victim's breast, and, quickly thrusting his hand into the opening, 


1 82 Letters of Cortes 

tore out the beating heart, which he first elevated, and tlien deposited 
at the feet of the image of the god. Sometimes the heart was placed 
in a vase, and left standing on the altar, or it might be buried, or pre- 
served with divers ceremonies, as a relic, or it might be eaten by the 
priests; the fresh blood was smeared on the lips of the idols. If the 
victim were a prisoner taken in battle, his head was given to the priests, 
to be kept as a trophy, the entrails were fed to the dogs, and the other 
parts of the body were cooked with maize, and offered in small pieces 
to the guests invited to partake by the giver of the sacrificial feast. 

The warrior who had captured the victim in battle could not eat of 
the latter's flesh, as a sort of spiritual relationship was held to exist 
between them, not dissimilar to that of a sponsor and his god-child in 
Christian baptism, or even closer, for the flesh of the victim was con- 
sidered also as the very flesh of the captor. The eating of this human 
body was not an act of gluttonous cannibalism alone, but was believed 
to have mystic significance, the flesh having undergone some mysterious 
transmutation, by virtue of the sacrificial rite, and to be really conse- 
crated; it was spoken of also, as the true body of the deity, to whom 
it was offered, and, also, as the "food of soul." None but chiefs, and 
distinguished persons, specially designated, were permitted to partake 
of the sacramental feast, which was celebrated with much ceremony 
and gravity. If the victim were a slave, the rites were similar, but 
simpler. Orozco y Berra, in the first, and the third volumes of his 
authoritative work, gives the fullest, and most interesting information 
on human sacrifices amongst the Mexicans. 




Sent to his Sacred Majesty, the Emperor of Our Realm, 
by the Captain- General of New Spain, called Doit Fer- 
nando Cortes, in which he gives'ian^account of the countries 
and innumerable provinces which he has discovered in 
Yucatan, from the year 15 19 to the present time, and has 
subjected to the Crown of His Royal Majesty. He makes 
special relation of a very great, and very rich, province 
called Culua, in which there are many great cities, and 
marvellous edifices, having much commerce and wealth. 
Amongst these there is one more i marvellous nnd richer 
than all the others, called Temixtitan, which by marvellous 
art has been built on a great lake; of which city and pro- 
vince, a very great lord, called Montezuma, is king; in which, 
things, frightful to be heard, were suffered by the Captain, 
and the Spaniards. He describes at length the vast do- 
minion of the said Montezuma, and its customs and cere- 
monies, and how he is served. 

Very Great and Powerful, and Very Catholic Prince, 
Most Invincible Emperor, Our Lord. In a ship, which I 
despatched from this Your Sacred Majesty's New Spain, 
on the sixteenth of July 15 19, I sent to Your Royal High- 
ness 'a very long and particular account of everything 
which had happened from the time of my arrival here 
until that time; this said account was taken by Alonzo 
Hernandez Puertocarrero, and Francisco de Montejo, 
procurators of the Rica Villa de la Vera Cruz, which 
I had founded in the name of Your Royal Highness. 


1 86 Letters of Cortes 

Having had no opportunity since then, not only for the 
want of ships, and being myself occupied in the con- 
quest and pacification of this country, but also because 
nothing has been heard of the said ships and the pro- 
curators, I have related nothing more to Your Majesty 
concerning what has since been done. God knows the 
pain which this has caused me, for I have washed that 
Your Highness should understand the affairs of this 
country, which is so great and important, since, as I have 
already said in my other account, it is no less worthy 
to warrant your assuming anew the title of Emperor, than 
is Germany, of which, by the grace of God, Your Sacred 
Majesty already possesses the title. 

It would entail going on indefinitely, were I to at- 
tempt to tell Your Highness all the particulars, and every- 
thing relating to these parts and new kingdoms, and 
everything in them worthy to be told ; I beg Your Sacred 
Majesty to hold me pardoned, if I do not give so full an 
account to Your Highness as I ought, because neither 
my ability, nor my opportunity at this time, favour my 
doing so. I shall, nevertheless, endeavour to tell Your 
Highness the truth in the best manner possible, and what, 
for the present, is necessary that Your Majesty should 
know; and I must like^^dse crave Your Highness' s pardon 
if I do not recount all that is necessary, the precise when 
and how, and if I should not specify some names, not 
only of cities and towns, but also of provinces which, 
giving themselves for your subjects and vassals, have 
offered their allegiance to Your Majesty. This I beg, 
because, in a certain recent misfortune, of which I will 
hereafter in this writing give a full account to Your 
Highness, I have lost all my papers, and the official 
agreements, which I had made with the natives of this 
coimtry, besides many other things. 

In my other account. Most Excellent Prince, I told 
Your Majesty of all the cities and towns which until then 

Second Letter 187 

had offered themselves to your royal service, and which 
I held subjugated and conquered for you. I also men- 
tioned that I had information of a great lord called 
Montezuma/ of whom the natives of this country had 
told me, and who lived, according to their computation 
of distances, about ninety or a hundred leagues from 
the coast and port where I had disembarked; and that, 

> Muteczuma, Motezuma, Motecuhzoma are some of the various 
forms used, but, amongst the several spellings of the Aztec sovereign's 
name, it seems simpler to adopt the one sanctioned by the best English 
and American usage — Montezuma. 

Montezuma Xocoyotzin was one of the six sons of the King Axay- 
acatl (a.d. 1469-81), and was unanimously chosen by the electors to 
succeed his uncle, Ahuitzotl, from amongst the eligible princes, who, 
in that instance, were his own five brothers, and the seven sons of the 
deceased emperor. Montezuma II assumed the appellation of "Xoco- 
yotzin" upon his accession, signifying "younger," to distinguish him 
from the elder Montezuma, Ilhuicamina. Prescott gives his age as 
twenty-three at the time of election, but I prefer to follow the authority 
of the Tezozomoc MS., given in Orozco y Berra, which states that he 
was bom in i486 and was hence thirty-four years old. 

His early career was that of a successful soldier, from which he 
passed into the priesthood, rising to the grade of a pontiff. At that 
time he was held in great veneration by the people, as one who received 
revelations from the gods, and his strict life was a model to his fellows. 
It is related that, when the news of his election to the imperial throne 
was brought to him, he was found sweeping the steps of the temple 
whose altars he served. His temperament was theocratic; he ruled 
sternly, and ill-brooked opposition, or even counsel, but he was princely 
in recompensing faithful service. He had embellished his capital, 
but the liberality which built an aqueduct, a hospital, and new temples 
in the city, cost the subject provinces dear, and Montezuma being both 
despotic and a heavy tax-levier, was more feared than loved by his 
people and allies. Loving order, he understood the science of govern- 
ment, but his finer qualities were marred by his inordinate pride, and 
most of all by the ferocious superstition which finally lost him his throne 
and his life. The policy he adopted with Cortes was fatal, and shows us 
the pitiful figure of the monarch struggling, not against the power 
of an invading force, but taken in the coils of his own superstition, and 
reduced to a himible suppliant, offering rich bribes to the man he 
could have annihilated. The treasures he thus incautiously exposed, 
argued the existence of still greater in reserve, and whetted the Span- 
iard's craving for more. 

An account of Montezuma's death will be found in a later note. 

i88 Letters of Cortes 

confiding in the greatness of God, and relying on the 
power of Your Ilighness's Royal name, I had decided 
to go and see him, wherever he might be. I even re- 
member that I ofTered, so far as this lord was concerned, 
to accomplish the impossible, for I vowed to Your Royal 
Highness, that I would have him prisoner, or dead, or 
subject to the Royal Crown of Your Majesty. 

With this purpose and determination, I left the city 
of Cempoal, * which I had named Seville, on the sixteenth 
Cortes Be- '-*^ August, with fifteen horsemen, and three 
gins his hundred foot soldiers, all equipped for war, as 
March to best I was able, and as time permitted. I left 
^^"^° in the town of Vera Cruz, two horsemen, and 
one hundred and fifty men, engaged in building a fort, 
which I have now almost finished, and I left all that 
^(province of Cempoal, and all the neighbouring mountain 
N, regions near the said town, which contained some fifty 
^thousand warriors, and fifty towns and forts, all well 
pacified, and secure, and very devoted as loyal vassals 
of Your Majesty, such as they have been, and are, 
until now. According to my information, they were 
subjects of that lord, Alontezuma, by force, and since a 
short time only, and, when they learned from me of Your 
Highness' s great and royal power, they declared they 
wished to become vassals of Your Royal ]\Iajesty, and my 
friends, and they prayed me to protect them against that 
great lord, who held them subject by force and tyranny, 
and took away their sons, to kill and sacrifice them to their 
idols; and making many other complaints against him. 
Thus, they are, and have continued, very, firm and loyal 
in the service of Your Highness, and I believe they will 

' Cempoal. Found with many variations of spelling such as 
Cenipoal, Cempoalla, Zempoala, etc. The town was situated between 
the two rivers Chatcalacac and Actopan, a little more than a league 
from the sea. It was a well built town in the midst of a fertile coun- 
try, four leagues from Vera Cruz ; and still preserves its Indian name. 
A. Spanish lad of twelve was left at Cempoal to learn the language. 












Montezuma's palace. 

Temple of Tezcatlipoca. 


Palace of Axayacatl (Spanish quarters). 

Great temple. 

Palace of Montezuma I., Ilhuicamina, 

Palace of Tlilancolqui. 

The great square. 


Market-place of Mexico. 

Tezoutlalamacoyan (teocalli), present 

S. Catherine, Martyr. 
Huitznahuac (teocalli). 
Meeting-place of Montezuma and Cortes. 
Temple of Atzacualco. 
Palace of Xacacuico (Quauhtemotzin's residence 

during the siege). 
Market-place of Tlatelolco. 
Temple of Tlatelolco. 
Temple of Xoluco. 
Bridge of Techautzinco. 
Bridge of Tolteacalli (site of the Church of the 


Bridge of Toltecaacaplan (Alvarado's leap). 
Audience hall (present church of banta Ana). 
Temple of Cihuatecpan or Xochotilla (present S. 

Teniple of Coyonacazco also called Amaxac. 
Tetinantitech : final stand of the Mexicans, where 

the present Church of the Conception stands. 
1 emple of Apahuaztlan. 
Temple of Nomoxco. 
Temple of Petlacalli. 
Fortress of Xoloc. 
Cuicacolco (teocalli). 


From Conqtiista de Mexico, vol. iv., by Orozco y Berra 

Second Letter 189 

always remain so, not only to escape from his tyranny, 
but also because they have always been well treated and 
favoured by me. For the greater security of those 
who remained at Vera Cruz I brought some of their 
principal men, and some of their people with me, who 
have been not a little useful to me on the road. 

I believe I have already written to Your Majesty, in 
my first account, that some of my company, who had 
been servants and friends of Diego Velasquez, were vexed 
by what I had accomplished in the service of Your High- 
ness, and some of them even wanted to rebel, and desert 
me in the country; especially four Spaniards who were 
called Juan Escudero, Diego Cermefio, a pilot, Gonzalo 
de Ungria, also a pilot, and Alonzo Pefiate. These, as they 
voluntarily confessed, had determined to seize a brigan- 
tine, then in the port, with a certain quantity of bread 
and meat, to kill the master of it, and return to the island 
of Femandina, that they might report to Diego Velasquez 
that I was sending to Your Royal Highness the ship, which 
I sent with what it contained, and the course it would 
take. This was to enable the said Diego Velasquez to 
put ships on guard, for the purpose of capturing it, as 
he did when he afterwards came to know it, for, as I 
was informed, he sent a caravel after the said ship, which 
would have been captured, if it had not already passed. 
And they likewise confessed, that other persons shared 
the same wish to warn the said Diego Velasquez. Having 
seen the confessions of these delinquents, I punished them 
according to justice, and as it seemed to me the needs 
of the times, and the interests of Your Royal Highness's 
service demanded. 

Besides those, who acted thus because they were 
servants and friends of Diego Velasquez, there Destruction 
were otherswho,., wanted to leave on see- of the 

ing how large and populous the country ^^®®* 

was, while the Spaniards were so few. Believing 

I go Letters of Cortes 

that, if I k'ft the sliips there, they would revolt \vith 
them, and, all those of like mind deserting, I would be 
left almost alone, by which the great service which I had 
rendered to God and Your Highness in this country would 
be undone, I determined, on the pretext that they were 
unseaworlhy, to have the said ships beached. ^ Thus, 
everybody lost hope of ever leaving the country, and I 
set out on my march, securely, without fear that, when 
I turned my back, the people whom I had left in the 
town would fail me. 

Eight or ten days after having beached the ships, and 
when I had gone to the city of Cempoal, which is about 
four leagues distant, whence to continue my march, they 
brought me news in that town, that four ships were 
running along the coast, and that the captain, whom I 
had left there, had gone out to them in a boat. I had 

> The destruction of the ships is one of the most dramatic epi- 
sodes in the eventful history of the conquest, and Cortes, in reporting 
it to the Emperor, assumes exclusively the credit of the heroic decision 
and its execution, but throughout his narrative he is chary of ever 
mentioning anybody but himself. Gomara naturally gives the same 
account and Prescott accepts his version, as do other reputable his- 
torians. Bemal Diaz, who figures always as the great objector and 
corrector, contradicts this account very positively, and says that the 
destruction of the ships was decided upon after a general discussion, 
and that Cortes was unwilling to accept any responsibility either for 
their demolition or for their cost if there should later arise a necessity to 
pay for them to their rightful owners. He refutes with emphatic scorn 
Gomara's assertion that Cortes feared to tell the soldiers of his inten- 
tion to push into the interior in search of the great Montezuma, ex- 
claiming: " What sort of Spaniards are we, not to want to push ahead, 
but to stop where we had no hardships or fighting!" The Relacion 
of Andres de Tapia (who was also an eye-witness) agrees with Bemal 
Diaz. Puertocarrero replied in La Coruna in the same sense as his 
companion Monte jo (April 29, 1520), stating that the proposal to de- 
stroy all but three of the ships came from the captains of them, who 
declared them to be unseaworthy, and even the three to be of doubtful 
value. Puertocarrero and Montejo sailed, as has been said, on July 
1 6th, with the treasure and the letters which were dated July loth, so 
that the discovery of the conspiracy, and the punishment of its authors, 
and the destruction of the ships, all took place in those six days. 

Second Letter 191 

been told that they belonged to Francisco de Garay/ 
Lieutenant, and Governor of the Island of Jamaica, and 
had come to make discoveries. My captain had told 
them, that I had already settled the country in the name 
of Your Highness, and had laid out a town about a league 
from where the said ships were, where they could go and 
make their arrival known to me, and there make any 
repairs they might need. He said he would conduct 
them in his barque to the port, pointing out to them 
where it was. They had answered him, that they had 
already seen the port, having passed in front of it, and 
that they would do as he said, so he had returned with 
the barque, but the ships had not followed him nor come 
to the port. They had still sailed along the coast, and, as 
they had not entered the port, he did not know what object 

Clavigero believes that Cortes induced some of the pilots to scuttle 
one or two of the ships, and to then come to him representing the others 
as unseaworthy from being three months in port. 

Senor Orozco y Berra is doubtless right in believing that the idea 
of destroying the ships originated with Cortes, who adroitly suggested 
it in such wise, and with such arguments, that it came back to him as a 
spontaneous proposal from the others, prompted, or at least supported 
by the opinions of the pilots and ship-captains that the vessels were 
unsound. Such artifice was not alien to his diplomacy, for he usually 
contrived that he should appear to interpret the popular will as well 
as to serve the royal interests in all his undertakings. 

» Francisco de Garay sailed with Columbus on his second voyage. 
Las Casas speaks of his great wealth, and says that he had five thousand 
Indians solely to look after his pigs. He went to Spain as procurator for 
San Domingo, and returned as Lieut-Governor of Jamaica. When the 
news of the Cordoba and Grijalba expeditions became the excitement 
of the day, Garay sent out an exploring party under command of Diego 
de Camargo. This discovered the Panuco region, and, continuing 
thence about one hundred leagues towards Florida, finally returned 
to Jamaica. The Emperor Charles V. granted him faculties for further 
enterprises, and the title of adelantado of the new countries he dis- 
covered. Garay was one of the most cruel oppressors of the Indians 
and it was said of him that he came, not to populate, but to depopulate, 
Jamaica. This expedition, of which Cortes writes, was composed of 
four ships carrying two hundred and seventy men, with horses and 
cannon, and had sailed from Jamaica towards the close of 15 18, under 
command of Alonzo Alvarez de Pineda. 

192 Letters of Cortes 

they had in \'ie\v. Within an hour after hearing what 
the said captain made known to me, I left for Vera Cruz, 
where I learned that the ships were anchored about three 
leagues down the coast, and that no one had landed. I 
then went along the coast with some people, to recon- 
noitre, and, when I was about one league from the ships, 
I met three men from them, amongst whom there was 
one who called himself a notary public, who told me he 
had brought the other two as witnesses to a certain noti- 
fication and requirement with which he said their captain 
had ordered him to serve me on his behalf, and which 
he had brought w4th him. They desired to make it 
known to me, that he had discovered that country, and 
\\ished to settle in it, for which reason he required me 
to define the boundaries with him, as he wished to make 
his settlement down the coast five leagues below Nautical, ^ 
which is a city now called Almeria, twelve leagues from 
Vera Cruz. I answered that their captain should come 
with his ships to the port of Vera Cruz, where we could 
talk, and I would learn his intentions, and, if his ships 
and people needed anything, I would help them with 
what I could. Inasmuch as he said that he had come in 
the service of Your Sacred Majesty, I only desired that 
occasion should be given me to serve Your Highness, 
and, in helping him, I believed that I would do this. 
They replied, that neither the captain, nor any of his 
people, would on any account land an}n,\'here that I 
might be. 

Believing that they must have done some harm in 
the country, inasmuch as they were afraid to come before 
me, when night came on I hid myself near the coast, op- 
posite to where the said ships were anchored. There 
I remained concealed until the next day about noon, 
expecting the captain or his pilot to come on shore, from 

> The present Nautla in the state of Vera Cruz ; Pineda named it 


Second Letter 193 

whom I would learn what they had been doing, and where 
they had been, intending, that if they had done any harm 
in the country, to send them to Your Sacred Majesty; but 
neither they nor anyone else ever landed. Seeing that 
they did not come, I made some of my Spaniards put 
on the clothes of those who had come to make me the 
requirements, and directed them to go to the beach, and 
signal to those on board the ships. As soon as these 
were observed by those on board, a barque, carrying some 
ten or twelve men, armed with arquebuses and muskets, 
came towards the land. The Spaniards who were calling 
from the shore retired from the beach to some bushes 
near by, as if to take shelter in their shade, and thus four 
landed, two men with arquebuses, and two with muskets. 
These were surrounded, and taken prisoners by the people 
whom I had placed on the beach. One of the captives, 
the master of the ship, tried to fire his weapon, and would 
have killed my captain of Vera Cruz, but that, by Our 
Lord's will, the fuse did not burn. Those who had re- 
mained in the boat, put to sea, but before they could 
reach their ships, sail had been set, without waiting, or 
troubling to hear anything about them. 

I learned from my prisoners, how they had arrived at 
a river, ^ which is some thirty leagues down the coast, after 
passing Almeria, and had had a good reception there 
from the natives, and had traded for some provisions, 
and seen some gold which the Indians wore, although it 
was scarce, that they had obtained by trading, as much 
as [three thousand castellanos^ worth of gold, and that 
they had not landed, but had seen certain towns on the 
banks of the river so near, that they could distinguish 
them well from the ships, and that there were no buildings 
of stone, the houses being of thatch, but very high and 
well built. All this I knew more fully afterwards, through 

1 The Panuco. 

2 The casiellano was equivalent to $1,167. 

VOL. I. — 13 

194 Letters of Cortes 

that great lord Montezuma, and from certain interpreters 
from that country whom he had about him. 

I took these men, and an Indian whom they had 
brought in their ships from the said river, and sent 
_ otiati ns ^h^"^- with Other messengers of the said Monte- 
with the zuma, to the lord of that river, called Panuco, 
Cacique of to win him to Your Sacred Majesty's service, 
anuco With them, he sent me back a chief who, it 
was said, was chief of a town, who brought me on behalf 
of his lord certain stuffs, and stones, and feathers, 
telling me that he and all his people would be very happy 
to become vassals of Your Majesty, and my friends. I in 
turn presented them with some things from Spain, which 
so satisfied him, that, when some other ships of the said 
Francisco de Garay arrived (of which I will make relation 
to Your Highness hereafter), the said Panuco sent me 
word that those ships were in another river, some five 
or six days' journey from that place, asking that I should 
tell him whether those who had come in them belonged to 
me, so that he might give them whatever they needed, 
and that he already had sent some women and chickens 
and other provisions. I marched, Very Powerful Lord, 
three days through the country and lordship of Cempoal, 
where I was well received, and entertained by the natives, 
and, on the fourth day, I arrived in the province called 
Sienchimalen, ^ where there is a very strong town ably 
fortified. It is situated on the side of a steep mountain 
slope, and is approached by a single pass of steps, by 
which it is impossible to enter except on foot, and 
even thus with great difficulty, if the natives wished to 
defend it. 

In the plains, there are many hamlets and villages, 
with five, three, and two hundred families, which will 
furnish altogether some five or six thousand warriors; and 
they are subject to the rule of Montezuma. Here, they 

> Xochimilco was the correct name ; it is now called Xico. 

Second Letter 195 

received me very well, and courteously gave me the 
necessary provisions for my march, saying that they knew 
very well I was going to see Montezuma their lord, and 
that I might rest assured he was my friend, for he had 
ordered them, in every case, to give me a good reception, 
as by so doing they would render him a service. I 
thanked them for their courtesy, saying that Your 
Majesty already knew of Montezuma, and had ordered 
me to visit him. 

I next crossed a pass, which is at the end of this 
province, and to which we gave the name of Puerto del 
Nombre de Dios, ^ on account of its being the first we 
have traversed in this country. So steep, and so high, is 
it, that in all Spain there is none so difficult. I passed 
with entire safety, and without any opposition, and, on the 
descent of the said pass, there are other hamlets belong- 
ing to a town and fort, called Ceycocnacan,^ which also 
belongs to Montezuma. Here we were as well received 
as we had been at Sienchimalen, and the people repeated 
what the others had told us of Montezuma's good will, 
and I satisfied them in the same manner. 

Thence I travelled three days through a desert, which, 
on account of its sterility, and want of water, and the 
very great cold which prevails, is uninhabitable; where 
God knows all the trouble which the men suffered from 
hunger and thirst, especially from tempests of hail and 
rain which overtook us, making me fear that many people 
would die of cold; and certain Indians from the Island of 
Fernandina did die, because they were ill-clad. At the 
end of these three days, we traversed another pass, ^ 
although not so steep as the first one, on the top of which 
was a small tower Hke an oratory, where were kept certain 

» Now called Paso del Obispo. 

* Another name which is spelled according to the caprice of each 
writer; its proper name was Ixhuacan, now spelled Ishuacan, and 
the tower is some ten leagues from Xalapa. 

3 Identified, with probability, as the Sierra del Agua. 

i9^> Letters of Cortes 

idols, and around the tower were more than a thousand 
loads of cut wood, very well piled up, so we named it 
the Paso de la Lena. On the descent of the said pass, 
between some very rough mountain chains, there is a 
very populous valley, the people of which seem to be 

After having marched about three leagues through the 
settlement without seeing anything of them, I arrived at 
a somewhat more level place, where it seemed the chief 
of that valley lived, and which had the largest and best 
built houses we had till then seen in this country, for 
they were of hewn stone, quite new, and had very large 
and beautiful rooms, and many well-arranged apartments. 
This valley and its people are called Caltanmi.^ I was 
very well received, and lodged by the chief and his 
people. After having spoken to him on the part of Your 
Majesty, and told him the cause of my coming to these 
parts, I asked him if he also was a vassal of Montezuma's, 
or if he belonged to some other dominion. He, wondering 
at what I asked him, answered me, "And who is not a 
vassal of Montezuma's?" as much as to say that he was 
the sovereign of the world. I then replied, and told him 
about the vast power and jurisdiction of Your Majesty, 
and of all the many and greater lords than Montezuma 
who were vassals of Your Highness, even considering it as 
no small privilege to be so, as would Montezuma, and all 
the natives of these parts, likewise have to be; and thus 
I required him to be because he would then be much 
honoured and favoured, while on the contrary if he were 
unmlling to obey he would be punished. In recognition 
of his vassalage, I asked him to give me some gold to be 
sent to Your Majesty, when he answered that he had 

' The name of the valley was Caltanmic, and that of the town, 
Xocotla; its chief, Olintetl, was so enormous that he had to be sup- 
ported when he walked. The Spaniards named him the "trembler." 
There was a strong Mexican garrison at Xocotla, as it was a fortified 
place on the frontiers of hostile Tlascala. 

Second Letter 197 

gold, but would not give it unless Montezuma commanded 
him to do so, but that, if the latter did so order, then he 
would give the gold, and his person, and all that he 
possessed. In order not to scandalise him, nor to hinder 
my designs and progress, I dissembled with him the 
best I could, saying that very soon Montezuma would 
order him to give the gold and ever3rthing he had. 

The two other chiefs who had lands in this valley came 
to see me here, one of whom lived four leagues below, and 
the other two leagues above, and they gave me certain 
collars of gold of little weight or value, and seven or 
eight female slaves. 

' After stopping four or five days there, I left them very 
contented, and went to the city of the other chief, two 
leagues, as I said, up the valley which place is called 
Yztacmastitan.^ This lordship has an extension of 
three or four leagues, one house after another along the 
valley, and on the banks of a small river which flows 
through it. The house of the chief stands on a very high 
hill, protected by a better fort than can be found in half 
Spain, well surrounded with walls, and barbicans, and 
moats, and, on the top of this hill, there is a tow^n of about 
five or six thousand inhabitants, with very large houses, 
whose people are somewhat richer than those of the lower 
valley. Here I was also very well received, and its chief 
told me that he likewise was a vassal of Montezuma. I 
stayed in his house three days, not only for the purpose 
of resting the people from the hardship they had endured 
in the desert, but also to wait for four messengers, natives 
of Cempoal, who had come with me, and whom I had sent 
from Caltanmi to a very large province called Tascalteca,^ 

' Ixtacmaxtitlan, in the present state of Puebla. For convenience' 
sake the town was removed from the hill-top in 1601 and built on 
its present site lower down. 

2 Tlascala was a republic composed of four federated states, each 
ruled by its chief, while federal affairs and legislation were undertaken 
by the Senate, which was composed of the nobles of all four states. 

198 Letters of Cortes 

which they told me was very near there, as in truth it 
was. They had also told me, that the natives of this 
province were their friends, and very deadly enemies of 
Montezuma, and that they wished me to confederate 
with them, as they were a large and powerful people 
(whose country was bounded on all sides by that of the said 
Montezuma, with whom they were in continual warfare), 
and would be glad to help me if the said Montezuma 
should oppose me. These messengers did not return 
during all the time that I remained in that valley, which 
was in all eight days. I asked the others, who had come 
with me from Cempoal, how it was that the messengers 
did not return, and they answered that it was a great 
distance, and that they could not get back so quickly. 
Seeing that their return was delayed, and that the 
chiefs of Cempoal were so positive about the friend- 
ship and fidelity of the people of that province, I set 
out for it. 

and their over-lords. The city was likewise divided into four districts, 
in which people of the separate tribes lived, each under its own chief. 
As the country was hemmed in on all sides by the Aztec Empire, there 
was no commerce, and the chief pursuit was agriculture. The Tlas- 
calans were a brave, hardy, and war-like people, well advanced in mili- 
tary science, and having something very like a feudal system of chiv- 
alry, in that the different chiefs or lords had each his own standard 
and crest, and the soldiers were uniformed in their leaders' colours 
and owed him allegiance; Xicotencatl's. device was a white heron on a 
rock. There were also orders of knighthood conferred for bravery. 
Their important part in the conquest is noticed elsewhere, and will 
also appear in the course of Cortes's own narration. One of his first 
desires was to force Christianity upon them, but Fray Bartolome de 
Olmedo wisely restrained his untimely zeal, and, beyond explaining 
the Christian doctrines, no constraint was attempted. The Tlascalans 
conceded that the Christian God must very likely be a good one, and 
they were ready to admit him to a place in their own pantheon, some- 
thing after the manner of the Emperor Hadrian and other Romans. 
The four chiefs ruling the confederation at that time were Xicotencatl, 
lord of Titzatlan, Maxixcatzin, lord of Ocotelolco, Tlehuexolotzin, lord 
of Tepeticpac, and Citlalpopocatzin, lord of Quiahuitztlan. (Clavigero, 
Storia Antica, lib. viii.) (Vide, Camarga, Hist. Tlascala; and Torque- 
mada, lib. 3-16.) 

Second Letter 199 

At the exit of the said valley, I found a great wall 
of dry stones, about nine feet high, which crossed the 
whole valley from one mountain to the other; The Wall of 
it was twenty feet thick, and had a stone Tlascala 
parapet, a foot and a half broad on the top so that 
one could fight from above. The single entrance was 
about ten paces broad, and in this entrance one wall 
doubled over the other, in the form of a ravelin, narrowly 
contracted within about forty paces, in such wise that 
the entrance was curved instead of being straight. ^ 
Having inquired the object of that wall they told me 
that it was built because they were on the frontier of that 
province of Tascalteca, whose people were Montezuma's 
enemies, and constantly at war with him. 

The natives of this valley besought me, that, inasmuch 
as I was going to see Montezuma their lord, not to pass 
through the country of these his enemies, who per- 
chance might be ill-disposed towards me, and do me 
some mischief, whereas they would guide me always 
through the land of the said Montezuma without going 
out of it, and that in it I would always be well received. 
The Cempoalans, however, advised me not to do this, 
but to go through Tascalteca, for what these people were 
telling me, was for the purpose of cutting me ofif from 
the amity of that province ; they told me that all Monte- 
zuma's people were bad and treacherous, and would en- 
snare me in places w^hence I could never escape. As I 
had more confidence in the Cempoalans than in the 

I Bernal Diaz contradicts Cortes's statement that this wall was 
built of dry stones, and states that the stones were so firmly united 
by such strong bitumen that it required pick axes to separate them. 
Clavigero, in his notice on the remains of military architecture in 
Mexico (lib. vii. Sec. xxvi.), gives faith to Bernal Diaz who professed 
to have carefully studied the construction, though he brusquely char- 
acterises the old soldier as an idiot {sic) for not distinguishing between 
bitumen and the mortar used by the Mexicans. Lest the ingenious con- 
struction of the aperture be not clearly enough explained by Cortes, 
the accompanying drawing will show its character. 

200 Letters of Cortes 

others, I took their advice, and chose the road to Tas- 
calteca, conducting my people with the best caution I 

Accompanied by about six horsemen, I rode ahead 
about half a league or more, little thinking of what after- 
wards happened, but to reconnoitre the country, so that 
if anything should befall I might perceive it in time to 
take measures, and prepare my people. After having 
gone four leagues, and while ascending the hill, two 
horsemen who went ahead saw certain Indians, wearing 
the feathers they are accustomed to in war, armed with 
their swords, and lances, and rodelas, who took to flight 
when they perceived the horsemen. At the same time I 
came up, and had them called to to return without fear. 
I advanced to where there were about fifteen Indians, who, 
massing themselves, began to attack us with their swords, 
calling to their other people who were in the valley, and 
fighting mth us in such wise that they killed two horses, 
and wounded three others and two horsemen. In the 
midst of this, others came up, numbering about four to 
five thousand. Meantime, eight other horsemen, besides 
those whose horses were killed, joined me, charging on 
them until the other Spaniards, to whom I had sent 
a summons by a horseman, arrived. We did them some 
harm, in the charges we made, killing fifty or sixty of 
them, \\dthout suffering any hurt ourselves, although 
they fought with great courage and daring; but, as we 
were all on horseback, we could charge them, and fall 
back in safety. When they saw our reinforcements 
approaching, they retreated, because they were so few, 
and left us the field. 

After they were gone certain messengers came, who 
said they were the lords of the said province, and with 
them came two of the messengers whom I had sent. 
These explained that the said chiefs did not know any- 
thing of what those others had done, as they belonged to 




< J 

< > 


3 5 
►J '^ 

s ■« 


Second Letter 201 

independent communities, and had acted without their 
consent, and they were very sorry for it, and would pay 
for the horses they had killed, and they wished to be my 
friends, and that I could go on freely, for I would be well 
received by them [in hora buena, viz., in a good hour], 
I answered that I was very thankful to them, and that 
I would consider them as my friends, and would advance 
as they advised. 

That night, one league beyond where this happened, 
I was obliged to sleep in a dry river bed [baranca], not 
only because it was late, but also because my Hostilities 
people were tired. I stayed there as well i» Tlascala 
guarded as possible, stationing my sentinels and scouts, 
both on horseback and on foot, and at daybreak I left, 
carrying my van-guard and rear-guard well organised, 
and my scouts on ahead. 

Arriving at a very bmall village just at sunrise, the two 
other messengers came with lamentations saying that 
they had been bound, and w^ould have been killed, but 
that they had escaped in the night. At not two stone' s- 
throws distance a great number of Indians appeared well 
armed, and with much shouting began to attack us, dis- 
charging many darts and arrows at us. When I under- 
took to make my requirements in due form, through the 
interpreters whom I had brought with me, and before a 
notary public, the more diligent I was to admonish and 
require them to keep the peace, just so much the more 
diligent were they in committing hostilities upon us, and, 
seeing that neither requirements nor protests were of any 
avail, we began to defend ourselves as best we could, and 
thus they kept us fighting, until we found ourselves in the 
midst of an hundred thousand warriors, who surrounded 
us on all sides. This went on all day long, until about 
an hour before sunset, when they retired. In this fight I 
did them a good deal of harm with about half a dozen 
cannon, and five or six muskets, forty archers, and thirteen 

202 Letters of Cortes 

horsemen, who had been left to me, without our receiving 
any hurt from them, except the labour and fatigue of 
fighting and hunger. And it truly appeared that it was 
God who battled for us, because amongst such a multi- 
tude of people, so courageous, and skilled in fighting, and 
with so many kinds of offensive arms, ^ we came out 

That night I fortified myself in a small tower of their 
idols, which stood on a small hill, and afterwards, at 
daybreak, I left two hundred men and all the artillery 
in the camp. As I was the attacking party I went out 
towards evening with the horsemen, and a hundred 
foot soldiers, and four hundred Indians whom I had 
brought from Cempoal, and three hundred from Yztac- 
mastitan. Before the enemy had time to assemble, I set 
fire to five or six small places of about a hundred houses 
each, and brought away about four hundred prisoners, 
both men and women, fighting my way back to my camp 
without their doing me any harm. At daybreak the 
following morning, more than a hundred and forty-nine 
thousand men, covering all the country, attacked our 
camp so determinedly that some of them penetrated 

' One of their most formidable weapons was the maquahuitl, 
commonly referred to by the Spaniards as a sword. It was a stout 
stick or club, about three and a half feet long, set with a double row 
of blades made of the stone called itztli, as sharp as razors. The war- 
rior carried this terrible weapon attached to his wrist by a thong, and 
instances of a horse being disembowelled, or even decapitated at a 
single blow, are given by many early writers. The blades or itztli 
were quickly dulled, but, even then, such a weapon wielded by a strong 
man was a fearsome thing. 

Their darts, which are so frequently mentioned, were short lances, 
whose points were tipped with bone or copper, or simply hardened in 
the fire. Clavigero identifies them with the Roman Jaculum or 
Telum Amentatum, and says they were the weapons most feared by 
the Spaniards. As marksmen, the Mexican bowmen were marvel- 
lously quick and accurate ; their arrows were also pointed with bone, but, 
singularly enough, there is no mention throughout the conquest of 
poison being used on them. 

Second Letter 203 

into it, rushing about, and thrusting with their swords 
at the Spaniards. We mustered against them, and Our 
Lord was pleased so to aid us, that, in about four hours, 
we managed that they should no more molest us in our 
camp, although they still kept up some attacks; thus we 
kept fighting until it grew to be late, when they retired. 

The next day I again went out before daybreak, in 
another direction, without having been observed by the 
enemy, taking with me the horsemen, a hundred foot- 
soldiers, and the friendly Indians. I burned more than a 
hundred villages, one of which had more than three thou- 
sand houses, where the villagers fought with me, though 
there were no other people there. As we carried the 
banner of the Holy Cross, ^ and were fighting for our 
Faith, and in the service of Your Sacred Majesty, to Your 
Royal good fortune God gave us such a victory that we 
slew many people without our own sustaining any injury. 
A little after mid-day when the strong force of the people 
was gathered from all parts, we had returned victorious 
to our camp. 

Messengers came from the chiefs the next day, saying 
that they wished to become vassals of Your Highness and 
my friends, beseeching me to pardon their past fault; 
and they brought me provisions, and certain feather- 
work which they use, and esteem and prize. I answered 
that they had behaved badly, but that I was satisfied to 
be their friend, and pardon them for all they had done. 

The next day there came about fifty Indians, who, 
it seemed, were men of some consequence amongst 
them, saying that they had brought us food, pate of the 
and they went about inspecting the entrances Tlascalan 
and exits of our camp, and some huts in ^P^®^ 

which we were living. The Cempoalans came and 

» The banner was of black silk bearing the arms of Charles V., 
and on both sides a red cross surrounded by blue and white rays. The 
legend was as follows : Amici sequamur Crucem et si nos fidem habemus 
vere in hoc signo viceremus. 

204 Letters of Cortes 

told me to watch them, because they were bad men 
who had come to spy and see what damage they 
could do us, and that I might rest assured they had come 
for no other purpose. With some dissimulation, I had 
one of them taken, without being observed by the others, 
and leading him and the interpreters apart, frightened 
him so that he should tell me the truth. He confessed 
to me that Sintengal, ^ the captain-general of this 
province, was behind one of the hills opposite the camp, 
with a great number of people, ready to fall upon us 
that night, for they said that they had tried by day 
against us, and had gained no advantage, and now they 
wished to try by night, when their people would fear 
neither our horses, our cannon, nor our swords; and they 
had been sent in order to examine our camp, and those 
points where they could attack us, and how they could 
burn the straw huts. I at once had another of the said 
Indians taken, and also asked him, and he confessed the 
same as the other in the same words, so I took another 
five or six, and they all agreed in their statements. See- 
ing this I had all the fifty taken, and cut off their hands, 
and returned them to their chief, ordering them to sav 
to him, that, by day or night or at any or all times he 
might come, he would see who we were. I then had my 
camp fortified as best I could, and posted the people as 
seemed most suitable, and we rested thus on our guard 
until sunset. 

When it was growing late, our opponents began to 
descend into two valleys, thinking they were surrounding 
us secretly, and to get nearer to us for carrying out their 

' Xicotencatl, son of the lord of Titzatlan, was a brave and able 
commander. He bore the same name as his father, which has led 
some writers to merge the two into one person, and others to confuse 
their deeds. The father was a very old man, though he was pro- 
bably not one hundred and forty years old, as some have stated, 
when he met Cortes he asked to be allowed to feel his face, for he 
was blind. 

Second Letter 205 

intentions. As I was on my guard, however, I saw them, 
and it seemed to me that it would be very dangerous to 
allow them to approach near the camp, because at night 
they could not see the damage I should do them from my 
side, and they would approach fearlessly, and also because 
in not seeing them some of the Spaniards might be some- 
what negligent in fighting. I also feared that they might 
set fire to my camp, which should it happen would be 
most disastrous, and none of us could escape; hence I 
determined to go out and meet them with all the horsemen 
and cut them to pieces, thus preventing their ap- 
proach. And so it happened, that when they discovered 
we were coming with horses to attack them, without stop- 
ping or shouting, they fled into some fields of maize, with 
which the country was almost covered, and lightened 
themselves of some provisions which they were carr3dng 
with them, for the feast they intended to celebrate, if 
this time they destroyed us entirely. They left us in 
security that night. After this occurrence, I remained 
several days without leaving camp, except in the neigh- 
bourhood, to repel the approach of some Indians who 
gathered to jeer at us, and provoke some skirmishes. 

When we had somewhat rested, I made a sally one 
night, after having inspected the first watch of the guard, 
taking a hundred foot, the friendly Indians, and the 
horsemen; and about a league from our camp five horses 
and mares fell, unable to go on, so I sent them back. 
Although those who accompanied me, said that I ought 
to return, as this was an evil omen, I still pushed ahead, 
confiding in God's supremacy above everything. Before 
daybreak I fell upon two towns, in which I slaughtered 
many people, but I did not want to burn the houses, so as 
to avoid attracting the attention of other people who 
were very near. / When day dawned I fell upon another 
large town, which contained according to a count, which 
I ordered to be taken, more than twenty thousand houses. 

2o6 Letters of Cortes 

and, as I had surprised them, I found them unarmed, 
and the women, and children, running naked through 
the streets; and we did them some harm. Seeing they 
could offer no resistance, a certain number of the in- 
habitants came to beseech me not to do them further 
injury, for they desired to become vassals of Your High- 
ness, and my friends, and they recognised that they were 
at fault in not having trusted me, but that henceforth I 
would see that they would always do what I commanded 
them in the name of Your Royal Highness, as your very 
true vassals. Immediately there came to me more than 
four thousand of them, suing for peace, and they took us 
out to a fountain where they gave us good food. 

Thus I left them pacified, and returned to our camp, 
where I found the people who had remained there much 
frightened, believing I might have been in some danger, 
as they had seen the horses and mares returning the night 
before. ^Vhen they heard afterwards of the victory 
which God had been pleased to give us, and how I had 
left those towns at peace, they were very glad, for I 
certify to Your Majesty, that there was no one amongst 
us who was not very fearful at penetrating so far into this 
country, and amongst so many people, where we were so 
entirely without hope of help from an}'"vvhere. 

Indeed I had already heard with my own ears, pri- 
vately, as well as publicly, that I was a Pedro Carbonero, ^ 
who had got them into this difficulty from which they 
could never get out. And even more, I heard it said in 
one of the huts of certain companions (I being in a place 
where they could not see me), that if I had gone mad, and 
was going whence I could never escape, they need not 
do the same, but should rather return to the sea-coast, 
and that if I wished to return with them, very well, but if 

> An old proverb which said: "Pierre le Charbonnier savait hien 
ou il Hait, mats il ignorait le moyen d'en sortir"; pointing at foolish 
people who were always plunging into difficulties from which they never 
knew how to emerge. 

Second Letter 207 

not, to leave me. This was often required of me, but I 
would encourage them, telling them to look to it that 
they were the vassals of Your Highness, and that Span- 
iards were never found lacking anywhere, and that we 
were in a position to win the greatest kingdoms and 
dominions in the world for Your Majesty. I told them, 
moreover, that we were only doing what we were obliged 
to do as Christians, by fighting against the enemies of our 
faith, and that we would gain the glory of the other world, 
while in this we would obtain the highest praise and 
honour, such as till our time no generation had won ; and 
that they must perceive that we had God on our side, for 
Whom nothing was impossible, as they might recognise 
in the victories which we had obtained, where so many 
of our enemy had been slaughtered, but none of us. I 
told them other things of the same kind which seemed 
fitting, and with these, and the royal favour of Your 
Highness, they recovered their spirits, and I won them 
to my purpose, and to do as I wished, which was to 
complete the undertaking I had begun. 

The following day, Sicutengal, Captain General of 
this province, came to see me at ten o'clock, with 
about fifty of its chiefs, praying me on his Peace Con- 
part, and on that of Magiscatzin, ^ who was eluded at 
the principal person in all this province, and Tlasca a 
on behalf of many other lords, that I would admit 
them to the royal service of Your Majesty and to my 
friendship, and would pardon them the past errors, 
because they had not understood who we were. He said 
that they had exerted all their forces, not only by day, 
but also by night, to escape being subjected to anyone, 
since at no time had this province ever been so, nor had 
they ever had, nor did they have, any master; on the 
contrary, they had always lived free and independent, 

» Maxixcatzin, lord of the state of Ocotelolco, in the republic of 
Tlascala, and commander in chief of the united armies. 

2o8 Letters of Cortes 

since immemorial times, and had always defended them- 
selves against the great power of Montezuma, of his 
father, and grandfather, who held that country subjected, 
but had never been able to hold them in subjection, 
though they had them surrounded on all sides, so that 
no one could go out of the country. He said also that 
they ate no salt, ^ since there was none in their country, 
nor were they allowed to go to buy it anywhere else, nor 
did they wear any cotton clothing, because their country, 
on account of its cold, did not produce cotton, and they 
were deprived of many other things on account of being 
so shut ofT. They had endured it, and held it as better 
thus to be free, rather than be subjected to anyone; and 
they had wanted to do the same with me, for which rea- 
son, as several had already stated, they had tested their 
forces, and seeing clearly that neither these, nor their 
artifices, could avail them anything, had decided that, 
rather than die, and have their houses, and women, and 
children destroyed, they would become vassals of Your 

I satisfied them, saying that they must recognise that 
they were to blame for the injury they had sustained, 
for I had come to their country, thinking that I came to 
the country of my friends, for the Cempoalans had as- 
sured me that they were, and wished to be so ; and that I 
had sent my messengers ahead of me to let them know 
that I was coming and wished their friendship, and that 
without replying to me (coming in all security) , they had 
attacked me on the road, killed my two horses, and 

> Called by the Indians "tequesquit." It is made from the 
saltpetre, which was largely found in the neighbourhood of Ixtapala- 
pan and Ixtapaluca {Ixtabl meaning saltpetre), and formed an import- 
ant article of commerce, which however did not reach the Tlascalans 
on account of the permanent state of hostilities. As they were also 
cut off from the sea, salt had been for fifty years an almost unknown 
luxury amongst them ; cotton which was a product of the tierra caliente 
was for the same reason denied them. 

Second Letter 209 

wounded others. Moreover, after having fought, with 
me, they had sent their messengers, saying that what 
had happened had been without their Hcense or consent, 
and that certain communities had set themselves to do 
it without their participation, and that they had re- 
proved them for it, and desired my friendship. Be- 
lieving this to be true, I had told them that I was pleased, 
and that they would surely see me next day in their 
homes as in the houses of friends; and that Hkewise they 
had again attacked me on the road, and fought with me 
all day until night overtook us, notwithstanding that 
they had been required by me to keep the peace. I re- 
minded them of all the other things they had done to 
oppose me, and many others which I shall leave im- 
mentioned, so as not to weary Your Highness. Finally 
they submitted and acknowledged themselves as sub- 
jects and vassals of Your Majesty, offering their persons 
and property for your royal service; and such they did> 
and have done until to-day, and will always do, as Your 
Majesty will hereafter see. 

I remained six or seven days without leaving that 
place and camp, because I did not dare to trust them. 
They besought me to come to a large city. Description 
where all the chiefs of the province lived, of the City 
and even the chiefs themselves came to be- o^^iascaia 
seech me to come into the city, as I would be well 
received there, and better provided with everything 
necessary than in the camp. For they were ashamed that 
I should be so ill-lodged, as they considered me their 
friend, and they and I were vassals of Your Highness. 
In response to their prayers, I came to the city, which is 
about six leagues distant from the dwelling place and 
camp I had occupied, and is so large and admirable that, 
although much of what I might say I shall omit, the little 
which I shall say is almost incredible ; for it is much larger 
than Granada, and very much stronger, having very 

VOL. I. 14 

2IO Letters of Cortes 

good buildings, and it contains a great many more people 
than Granada did when it was taken, and is much better 
supplied with provisions, such as bread, birds, game, and 
river-fish, and other good eatables and vegetables. There 
is a market in this city, in which every day, above thirty 
thousand souls sell and buy, without counting many 
other small markets in different parts of the city. Every- 
thing is to be found in this market in which they trade, 
and could need, not only provisions, but also clothing 
and shoes. There are jewellery shops, for gold, and 
silver, and stones, and other valuables of feather- work, as 
well arranged as can be found in any of the squares or 
market-places of the world ; there is also as good earthen- 
ware and crockery as the best in Spain. They also sell 
wood and coals, and herbs to eat, and for medicinal 
purposes. There are houses like barbers' shops, where 
they wash their heads and shave themselves; there 
are also baths. Finally there prevail good order and 
politeness, for they are a people full of intelligence and 
understanding, and such that the best in Africa does 
not equal them. This province contains many extensive 
and beautiful valleys, well tilled and sown, and none 
are uncultivated. The province is ninety leagues in 
circumference, and, as far as I have been able to judge 
about the foiTn of government, it is almost like that of 
Venice, or Genoa, or Pisa, because there is no one supreme 
ruler. There are many lords all living in this city, and 
the people who are tillers of the soil are their vassals, 
though each one has his lands to himself, some more 
than others. In undertaking wars, they all gather 
together, and thus assembled they decide and plan them. 
It is believed that they must have some system of justice 
for punishing the wicked, because one of the natives of 
this province stole some gold from a Spaniard, and I told 
this to that Magiscatzin, the greatest lord among them. 
After making their investigation, they pursued him to 

Second Letter 211 

a city which is near there, called Churultecal, whence 
they brought him prisoner, and delivered him to me with 
the gold, telling me that I might chastise him. I thanked 
them for the diligence they took in this, but told them 
that, inasmuch as I was in their country, they might 
chastise him according to their custom, and that I did not 
wish to meddle with the punishment of their people 
while I was in their country. They thanked me for this, 
and took him with a public crier, who proclaimed his 
offence, leading him through the great market place, 
where they put him at the foot of a sort of theatre, and 
with a loud voice again published his offence. And all 
having seen him, they beat him on the head with sticks 
until they killed him. We have seen many others in the 
prisons, who, it is said, were confined there for thefts, 
and other offences they had committed. According to the 
visitation which I ordered to be made, this province has 
five hundred thousand householders, besides those of 
another small province, called Guazincango, which joins 
it, whose people live as these do, without a rightful 
sovereign, and are no less vassals of Your Highness than 
these Tascaltecas. 

Being, Most Catholic Lord, in our camp in the country 
while I was at warfare with this province, there came 
to me six lords from amongst the principal „ 
vassals of Montezuma, accompanied by about andPres- 
two hundred retainers, telling me that they ents from 
came on the part of Montezuma to say that ^o'^tezuma 
he wished to be a vassal of Your Highness, and 
my friend. He sent word that I should say what I 
wanted him to give to Your Highness as an annual trib- 
ute, of gold, silver, stones, slaves, cotton, and wearing 
apparel, and other possessions, and that he would give it 
all, if only I would not come to his country, because it 
was very sterile, and destitute of provisions, and he would 
be sorry if I or my people suffered want. He sent me by 

212 Letters of Cortes 

them about a thousand dollars of gold, and many pieces 
of cotton clothing, such as they wear. They remained 
with me during the war and until the end of it, and well 
saw what the Spaniards were able to do. They knew of 
the treaties which were made with this province, and the 
allegiance given by the chiefs of all the country to the 
service of Your Sacred Majesty. At which, as it ap- 
peared, they showed themselves not much pleased, for they 
worked in many ways to embroil me with this people, 
saying that nothing they had told me was true, nor was 
the friendship they had sworn sincere, and that they 
formed it to secure me, in order to commit treason when 
they could with safety. The inhabitants of this province 
on the other hand, many times advised me not to trust 
those vassals of Montezuma, because they were traitors 
who carried on all their affairs with treacheries and 
tricks, and it was thus they had subjected all the country; 
and that they as my sincere friends and persons w^ho had 
known them for a long time, warned me against them. I 
was not a little pleased to see this discord and want of 
conformity between the two parties, because it appeared 
to me to strengthen my design, and later I would find 
means to subjugate them; that common saying " De 
monte" etc., might be repeated, and I was even reminded 
of a scriptural authority which says " Omne regnum in 
seipsum divisum desolabiUtr." So I treated with the 
one, and the other, and privately I thanked both for the 
^^advice they gave me, giving to each the credit for more 
friendship, than to the other. 

I had been in the city twenty days or more, when those 
lords, Montezuma's messengers, who had always re- 
mained with me, told me that I ought to go to a city about 
six leagues from this Tascaltecal, called Churultecal, ^ 

> Cholula, sixty leagues distant from the city of Mexico, was 
the sacred city of Anahuac, the Jerusalem, or Mecca, of the nations, 
where stood (and stands) the greatest pyramid in Mexico, of whose con- 

Second Letter 213 

as its natives were friends of Montezuma's, their sovereign. 
They said that we might there learn his pleasure, whether 
it was that I should go to his country, and that some of 
them would go to speak with him, and tell him what I 
had told them and return with his answer. 

Although they knew that I had there some of his 
messengers, who had come to speak with me, I told them 
that I would go, and would leave on a certain day which 
I made known to them. When it became known to the 
Tascaltecas what they and I had agreed upon, and how 
I consented to go with them to that city, the rulers came 
to me, greatly afflicted, and told me that I must not go 
on any account, because it had been plotted to kill me 
and my men in that city. For this purpose, they said, 
Montezuma had sent fifty thousand men from his country 
(some part of which joins with that city), whom they 
kept in garrison, two leagues from the city, and that they 
had blocked up the customary high road, and had pre- 
pared a new one with many pits, in which sharp stakes 
and wood were placed, covered over in such a manner that 
the horses would fall, and be lamed; many streets were 
barricaded, and quantities of stones were collected on 
the housetops, so that, when we entered the city they 
might attack us with safety, and accomplish their pur- 
pose. They told me, that, if I wanted to confirm all they 

struction there is no authentic record. The form of government 
there was theocratic, and the priests chose a captain-general to com- 
mand the army, while the civil affairs were administered by a council 
composed of six nobles. 

The Cholula pyramid, now so covered with earth, and overgrown 
with shrubs and trees, that its artificial character and architectural 
lines are no longer discernible, measures at the length of its base 1423 
feet, or twice the length of Cheops ; the square of the base covers about 
forty-four acres, and the flat area on the summit a little more than one 
acre. The chief deity worshipped at Cholula was the mysterious 
"fair god" Quetzalcoatl (see Appendix III., at the close of this 
Letter). Bemal Diaz declared that Cholula reminded him of Valladolid 
because of its many lofty towers. 

214 Letters of Cortes 

said, I might judge from the fact that the chiefs of that 
city had never come to see me, nor to speak with me, 
though they were so near to this city, while those of 
Guazincango who Hved farther off had come, and if I 
sent for them I would see they would not come. I 
thanked them for their advice, and begged them to 
furnish me persons who would go on my part and call 
the chiefs. They did so, and I sent to invite them to come 
and see me, because I wished to tell them certain things 
on the part of Your Highness, and to explain to them the 
cause of my coming to this country. 

These messengers went, and delivered my message to 
the chiefs of Churultecal, and two or three persons of 
inferior rank returned with them, and told me that they 
had come on the part of those chiefs who were ill and 
could not come, but that I might tell them what I de- 
sired. The people of this city told me that all this was a 
mockery, and that those messengers were of mean con- 
dition, and in no wise should I leave without the chiefs 
of that city first coming hither. I told those messengers 
that an embassy from such a high Prince as Your Sacred 
Majesty could not be given to such persons as they were, 
and that even their chiefs were unworthy to hear it. 
They should, nevertheless, appear within three days 
before me to give their obedience to Your Highness, and 
to offer themselves as your vassals, with the understanding 
that, if they did not come within the time fixed, I should 
fall upon them, and destroy them, and proceed against 
them as against rebels who refused to submit to Your 
Majesty's authority. I sent them an order, signed with 
my name and that of a notary public, with a full ex- 
planation of the Royal Person of Your Sacred Majesty, 
and of my arrival, telling them how all these parts, and 
many other greater countries, and dominions, belonged 
to Your Highness, and how those who desired to be your 
vassals would be honoured and favoured, and how on the 

Second Letter 215 

contrary those who rebelled would be punished, according 
to justice. ^ 

The next day, almost all of the chiefs of that city 
came, and told me that, if they had not come before, 
it was because the people of this province Embassy 
were their enemies, and that they did not from Cho- 
dare to enter their country because they did lu^a Visits 
not consider themselves safe ; and that they °^ ^^ 

were sure that they had told me some things respecting 
them, but I must not give any credence to them, because 
they spoke as enemies, and not according to facts. They 
said also that I should go to their city, where I would 
discover the falsehoods their enemies had been telling, 
and the truth of what they themselves assured me; and 
that from thenceforth they gave and acknowledged 
themselves as vassals of Your Sacred Majesty, and that 
they would always remain such, serving and contributing 
in everything as they were commanded on the part of 

1 Cortes's unfaltering conviction was that he was an instrument 
of divine justice, and he acted the part consistently, determined 
that others should so regard him. He started from the dogmatic 
assumption that the new world belonged to Spain by right of Pope 
Alexander's bull of donation; that its inhabitants were therefore just 
as much the lawful subjects of the Crown as were the natives of Castile, 
or Granada, and that for them to refuse obedience was rebellion. The 
native chiefs in resisting his pretentions, and defending their countries, 
became, according to his reasoning, instigators of revolt and must be 
dealt with as such. Most of all, the people were practisers of idolatry, 
in peril of eternal damnation, whom it was a chief part of his mission 
to rescue, and bring into the knowledge of the Faith. He held him- 
self to be merciful, in that he invariably invited their obedience, 
by explaining what a privilege it was to be ruled by such a mighty 
sovereign as the Emperor, and sought to effect their conversion by 
expounding the doctrines of the Catholic religion. Once this choice 
was put plainly before them, and they had refused to accept the dual 
blessings of vassalage and conversion, they became in his eyes con- 
tumacious rebels, and conscious heretics. He had the Spanish XVI. cen- 
tury standards as to how all such were to be treated. He followed, 
in this case, the usual solemn formality of causing a letter to be 
drawn up by a notary ; that the Cholulan priests could not understand 
a word of it did not detract from the validity of the proceeding. 

2i6 Letters of Cortes 

Your Highness. It was thus set down by a notary 
pubHc, through the interpreters whom I had. 

I still determined to go with them, not only to avoid 
sho\^^ng any weakness, but also because from there I 
thought to treat affairs with Montezuma, as they bounded 
upon his country, as I have already said, and there 
was unimpeded intercourse between the two countries. 

When the Tascaltccas saw my determination, they 
were much grieved, and told me repeatedly that I erred, 
but inasmuch as they had given themselves as vassals 
to Your Sacred Majesty, and my friends, they wished 
to go with me, and help me in any emergency. ^ Al- 
though I forbade them, and prayed them not to go 
inasmuch as there was no necessity for it, still as many 
as about a hundred thousand men, well furnished for 
warfare, accompanied me to within about two leagues 
from the cit}^, when after many importunities, they re- 
turned, though some five or six thousand of them still 
remained with me. 

I slept in a dr}'' river bed about two leagues distant, 
to disperse the people, fearing they might cause some 
scandal in the city, and also because it was already late, 
and I did not wish to enter the city at a late hour. The 
next morning, the citizens came out to receive me on the 
road, with many trumpets, 2 and drums, and also many 
priests from their mosques, clothed in their vestments, 
and chanting in the fashion they are accustomed to do 
in the said mosques.^ With this solemnity they brought 
us into the city, where they housed us in a very good 
dwelling place, where all the people of my company 

» The real purpose of the Tlascalans was to embroil Cortes 
with the Cholulans, and, with the help of the invincible Spaniards. 
to crush their ancient enemy. 

' These tnimpets were made of wood and canes, and were well 
played, giving forth very sonorous notes. 

* The Spaniards commonly used the word "mosque" to desig- 
nate any non-Christian place of worship. 

Second Letter 217 

dwelt to their satisfaction; and they brought us some 
food, though not very generously. Along the road we 
encountered many signs, such as the natives of this 
province had foretold us, for we found the high road 
blocked up, and another opened, and some pits, although 
not many, and some of the city streets were closed, and 
many stones were piled on the house tops. They thus 
obliged us to be cautious, and on our guard. 

I found there certain messengers from Montezuma, 
who came to speak with those others who were with me, 
but to me they said nothing, because, in order to inform 
their master, they had come to learn what those who 
w^ere with me had done and agreed with me. These 
latter messengers departed, therefore, as soon as they 
had spoken with the first, and even the chief of those who 
had formerly been with me also left. 

During the three days which I remained there I was 
ill provided for, and every day was worse, and the lords 
and chiefs of the city came rarely to see and xhe Mas- 
speak to me. I was somewhat perplexed by sacre at 
this, but the interpreter whom I have, an Cholula 
Indian woman ^ of this country whom I obtained in 
Putunchan, the great river I have already mentioned 
in the first letter to Your Majesty, was told by another 
woman native of this city, that many of Montezuma's 
people had gathered close by, and that those of the 
city had sent away their wives, and children, and all 
their goods, intending to fall upon us and kill us all; 
and that, if she wished to escape, she should go with 
her, as she would hide her. The female interpreter told 
it to that Geronimo de Aguilar, the interpreter whom I 
obtained in Yucatan, and of whom I have written to Your 
Highness, who reported it to me. I captured one of the 
natives of the said city, who was walking about there, 
and took him secretly apart so that no one saw it, and 

» See Appendix I., close of Letter. 

2i8 Letters of Cortes 

questioned him; and he confirmed all that the Indian 
woman and the natives of Tascaltecal had told me. As 
well on account of this infonnation as from the signs I 
had obsen-ed, I determined to anticipate them, rather 
than be suiprised, so I had some of the lords of the city 
called, saying that I wished to speak with them, and I 
shut them in a chamber by themselves. In the meantime 
I had our people prepared, so that, at the firing of a 
musket, they should fall on a crowd of Indians who were 
near to our quarters, and many others who were inside 
them. It was done in this wise, that, after I had taken 
these lords, and left them bound in the chamber, I 
mounted a horse, and ordered the musket to be fired, and 
we did such execution that, in two hours, more than 
three thousand persons had perished. 

In order that Your Majesty may see how well prepared 
they were, before I went out of our quarters, they had 
occupied all the streets, and stationed all their men, but, 
as we took them by surprise, they were easily overcome, 
especially as the chiefs were wanting, for I had already 
taken them prisoners. I ordered fire to be set to some 
towers and strong houses, where they defended them- 
selves, and assaulted us; and thus I scoured the city 
fighting during five hours, leaving our dwelling place 
which was very strong, well guarded, until I had forced 
all the people out of the city at various points, in which 
those five thousand natives of Tascaltecal and the four 
hundred of Cempoal gave me good assistance. ^ 

" This massacre is one of the bloodiest in Mexican history, and 
concerning it the greatest controversy has raged. Las Casas leads 
in judging Cortes most severely, and says that it was a part of 
his policy, as indeed it was of the Spaniards everywhere, to strike 
terror into the natives by a wholesale slaughter. Bernal Diaz defends 
Cortes and says his course was justified later, when, in the investigation 
made by the friars who came for that purpose to Cholula, they learned 
from the chiefs and other Cholulans that there had really been a con- 
certed plot to destroy the Spaniards in their city. A contrary theory 
is, that the Tlascalans invented the fiction of a plot expressly to 

Second Letter 219 

On my return to our quarters, I spoke with those 
captive lords, and asked them why they wished to kill 
me treacherously. They answered that it was not their 
fault, as those of Culua, who were vassals of Alontezuma, 
had put them up to it, and that Montezuma had stationed 
in such and such a place, (which as we learned afterwards 
was a league and a half distant) , a gamson of fifty thousand 
men to accomplish it. But they now had learned how 
they had been deceived, and if I would set one or two 
of them at liberty, they would gather the people of the 
city, and return to it with all the women, and children, 
and chattels; and they prayed me to pardon them the 
error they had committed, assuring me that, from hence- 
forth, no one should deceive them, and that they would 
be faithful and loyal vassals of Your Highness and my 
friends. After having spoken at length to them about 
their error, I liberated two of them, and the next day 
the whole city was filled with men, women, and children, 
and as safe as if nothing of what had passed had ever 
happened. Immediately afterwards I Hberated all the 
other chiefs and lords whom I had made prisoners, they 
promising that they would serve Your Majesty very 

During the fifteen or twenty days I remained there, 
the city and country were completely pacified and re- 
provoke a massacre of their Cholulan enemies; if this be true, Dona 
Marina was the only instrument for accompHshing their purpose. She 
told Cortes that a Cholulan woman of position, whose friendship she 
had cultivated, had warned her of the Spaniards' doom, and urged her 
to take shelter in her own house, and thus save herself. Granted 
that Cortes was, with reason, fearful of treachery, his only safety lay 
in forestalling the plotters, but this it seems might have been done by 
securing the chiefs, and Montezuma's envoys, who were the suspected 
instigators, and even making an example of them. Nothing can ex- 
cuse the wholesale massacre of a defenceless population taken in a 
trap; such excessive measures overstepped by far the needs of tha 
situation. If the commander's intention was as Las Casas describes, 
he succeeded, for the news of the tragedy quickly spread, and threw 
Montezuma into a panic of helpless fear. 

220 Letters of Cortes 

peopled, so that it seemed nobody was lacking; and their 
market place and the affairs of the city were as they 
ordinarily were; and I made those of this city of Churul- 
tecal friends with those of Tascaltecal, for they used to 
be so formerly, ^ and it was but a short time since that 
Montezuma had won them ov^er to his allegiance, and 
made them enemies of the others. 

This city of Chunjltecal is situated in a plain, and 
has up to twenty thousand houses in the body of 
Description the city, and as many more in the outskirts. 
of Choiuia It is an independent state, and has its recog- 
nised boundaries, and they do not obey any chiefs, 
but govern themselves like the Tascaltecas. The people 
are better clothed in some ways than the Tascaltecas, 
because their honoured citizens all wear albornoces ^ 
above their other clothing, though they differ from 
those of Africa in ha\ing pockets, but in the making, 
and stuff and borders, they are very similar. They 
have all been, and are since the recent occurrence, 
very faithful vassals to Your ]\Iajesty, and very obedient 
in all that I required and commanded of them in Your 
Ro3^al name; and I believe that henceforth they wdll 
remain so. This city has very fertile fields, for they 
have much land, and the greater part is irrigated; and 
the city seen from the outside is more beautiful than the 
cities of Spain, because it is very level, and contains many 
towers, for I certify to Your Highness that I counted 
from a mosque four hundred and odd towers in the city, 

' Tlascala and Cholula had fought as allies against the triple 
alliance of Mexico, Texcoco, and Tlacopan, but Montezuma had profited 
by a subsequent dissension between them to aggravate the quarrel 
which thus led to a war, the Mexicans aiding the Cholulans. This 
cost the latter their independence, as Montezuma established his sway 
over them. They were reputed to be false, and their very name 
had come to be synonymous with treachery. (Orozco y Berra, Tom. 
iv., p. 239.) 

2 The Moorish burnous. 

Second Letter 221 

and all belonged to mosques. It is the best adapted for 
Spaniards to live in of any I have seen since leaving the 
port, as it has some uncultivated lands and water for the  
purpose of raising cattle, such as have no others we have 
seen so far. For, such is the multitude of people who 
live in these parts, that there is not a palm of land which 
is not cultivated, and even then there are many places in 
which they suffer for want of bread, and there are many 
poor who beg amongst the rich in the streets, and at the 
market places, just as the poor do in Spain, and other 
civilised countries. 

I spoke, to those messengers of Montezuma who re- 
mained with me, about the treachery which had been 
plotted against me in the city, and how the Concerning 
lords of it affirmed that it had been done the Plot of 
by the counsel of Montezuma. I said that ^^^ Cho- 

1 11 Ifl T1 C 

it did not seem to me that it was a deed for 
such a great lord as he was, who had sent me such 
honourable persons as his messengers, saying he w^as 
my friend, while on the other hand he devised plans for 
injuring me by means of strangers, so that he might cast 
off the responsibility if things did not turn out as he 
thought. But since it was thus, and he did not keep 
his word, nor did he speak the truth to me, I now intended 
to alter my plans ; for until now I had come with the in- 
tention of seeing and speaking with him, and of having 
him for a friend, and holding many conversations, and 
in the hope of peace. Now, however, I would go to his 
country with war, doing him all the harm I could as 
an enemy, though this I regretted very much, as I had 
always wanted him for a friend that I might counsel 
with him respecting what I was to do in this country. 
They answered me, that as they had been with me many 
days, they knew nothing concerning that plot, except 
what they had heard in the city after the occurrence, and 
they could not believe that it was done by the order and 

222 Letters of Cortes 

counsel of Montezuma; and they besought me, before T 
determined to abandon his friendship and to make war 
as I said, that I should inform myself of the truth, and 
permit one of them, who would promptly return, to go 
and speak with Montezuma, as from this city to the place 
where he resides is twenty leagues. I told them I agreed 
to this, and let one of them go, who after six days re- 
turned, together with the first who had gone, and they 
brought me ten plates of gold, and fifteen hundred pieces 
of stuff, and many provisions of chickens and panicap, ^ 
which is a beverage they drink; and they told me that 
Montezuma was much grieved over the disturbance that 
had happened, and which had been arranged in Churul- 
tecal. They said that I must believe that it had not been 
by his counsel and order, for he assured me it was not so, 
and that, though the people who were there in garrison 
were of a truth his, they had moved without his com- 
mands, induced by the natives of Churultecal, who bor- 
dered on two of his provinces, one of which was called 
Acancigo, and the other Izzucan. 2 They said that there 
existed a certain alliance of neighbourhood between 
them, for helping each other, and it was thus they had 
come there, and not by his orders; but in the future 
I should learn from his deeds, that what he had told me 
was true, though he still besought me not to seek to come 
to his country, because it was sterile, and we would 
suffer privations, and that from wherever I might be, I 
could send to ask him for whatever I wanted, and he 
would send it very promptly. I answered that my visit 
to his country could not be renounced, because I would 
have to send a full account of him and of it to Your 
Majesty, and that I was persuaded of the truth of what 

» There is no such word or drink, and this name may be here 
due to an error in writing or copying; it has been taken by some 
commentators to mean pan y cacao (bread and cocoa). Gayangos 
suggests that it may be the sugared drink called Atole. 

2 Two towns in the present state of Puebla. 

Second Letter 223 

he had sent to tell me ; that inasmuch as I could not forego 
seeing him, I hoped he would approve of it, and not plan 
any opposition, because it would be greatly to his injury, 
and would grieve me very much. 

From the time he saw it was my determination to visit 
him and his country, he sent me word to say that I might 
come, and very welcome ; that he would await me in that 
great city where he was, and he sent me many of his 
people to accompany me, as I was already near his 
country. These persons sought to induce me to go by 
a certain road, where they must have prepared some 
attack upon me, as it afterwards appeared, and as was seen 
by many Spaniards whom I afterwards sent to recon- 
noitre the country. There were so many bridges, and 
difficult passes on that road, that, if I had gone by it, they 
might very easily have accomplished their intentions, but 
as God has always taken care to guide, even from your 
childhood, the royal affairs of Your Sacred Majesty, and 
as I and those of my company went in your royal service, 
He showed us another road, which, although somewhat 
steep, was not as dangerous as that by which they wished 
to take us. 

About eight leagues from this city of Churultecal, 
there are two very high and marvellous mountains, ^ 
for at the end of August they were so covered Ascent of 
with snow that we could distinguish nothing Popoca- 
else on their tops but what seemed snow, and *^P®* 

' Popocatapetl. Signifying in the Mexican language "smoking 
mountain." Humboldt gives its height as 5400 metres. Together 
with Ixtaccihuatl (the white woman) this volcano was venerated as 
a god, the Indians considering them as man and wife; their feast 
days were celebrated both in the city and in grottoes in the mountains. 
The crater of Popocatapetl was thought to be an abode of the tormented 
spirits of wicked kings. The greatest eruption of which there is any 
record took place in 1353; the mountain was in a period of activity 
in 1 5 19 which lasted till 1528. Another eruption occurred in 1533, 
but the one which caused the most serious apprehension was on Feb. 
24, 1664, when a huge piece of the crater fell in and showers of ashes 

224 Letters of Cortes 

from the highest one, a great volume of smoke, as thick 
as a house, continually comes forth, not only by day, 
but also by night, rising to the clouds as straight as 
a pillar, and it appears to come out with such force, 
that although on the top of the mountain a strong 
wind prevails, it does not turn it. As I have always 
wished to give a very detailed account of this country to 
Your Highness, I wanted to know about this mystery, 
which seemed somewhat marvellous, so I sent ten of my 
companions, who seemed adapted for such an enterprise, 
accompanied by some natives of the country to guide 
them, charging them to climb the said mountains, and 
learn the secret of that smoke, whence and how it came. 
They went, and strove, and did all that was possible 
to scale it, but never were able to do so on account of 
the quantity of snow which lay on the mountain, and 
the clouds of ashes which are blown about on it, and also 
because they could not endure the great cold which pre- 
vails there. They nearly reached the top, however, and 
so high was it, that, when they were up there, the smoke 
began to come out, and they say it came with such an 
impetus and noise as if the entire mountain was about to 
sink; so they descended, and brought with them a con- 
siderable quantity of snow and icicles, which seemed 
a strange thing to see in these parts, for according to 
the opinion of the pilots, they belong to the tropics. 
They say especially that this country is situated in 
the twentieth degree, which is parallel to the island of 
Hispaniola, where the heat is continually very great. 

rained in the streets of Puebla, where the windows were broken, and 
roofs of houses collapsed. I visited the crater in 1884, when it resem- 
bled the basin of a dried-up lake, from which came puffs of whitish 
smoke-like steam, rising from small fissures here and there, while over 
all there was a strong smell of sulphur. Diego de Ordaz, who led the 
Spaniards in making the first known ascent of the mountain, had con- 
ceded to him on his return to Spain, the privilege of quartering a smok- 
ing volcano in his arms. 

Second Letter 225 

While going to see this mountain, they came upon a 
road, and asked the natives who went with them whither 
it lead ; and these answered to Culua, ^ and that it was 
a good road, and that the other by which the Culuans 
wished to take us was not good. The Spaniards followed 
it until they reached the top of the Sierras, between which 
the road passes, and from there they beheld the plains of 
Culua, and the city of Temixtitan,^ and the lakes which 
are in the said province, of which I will hereafter make 
relation to Your Highness. They came back very glad 
at having discovered so good a road, and God knows how 
happy I was about it. 

After these Spaniards, who had gone to visit the moun- 
tains, returned, and I had informed myself accurately, 
not only from them, but also from the natives, respecting 
the road w^hich they had discovered, I spoke to those 
messengers of Montezuma who were to guide me to his 
country, and told them, as it was shorter that I wished to 
go by that road, instead of the one they had proposed. 
They answered that I said truly that it was shorter, and 
more level, and the reason they had not suggested it, 
was because by it we should have to pass one or tw^o 
days' journey through the country of Guasucingo, whose 
people were their enemies, and therefore we would not 
find all the necessaries, as when going through the land 
of Montezuma; but, if I wished to go that way, they 
would arrange that provisions should be brought up to 
the road from the other side. 

So we started, with some fears that those people 
might persist in playing some trick upon us, but as 
we had already announced that we would Departure 
take that road, it did not seem well to from 

me to leave it, and to change, lest they Choluia 
might suspect a want of courage had caused it. The 

» Colhua, another name for Mexico, also spelled Culua. 
2 See Appendix II. , close of Letter. 

VOL. I — 15. 

2 26 Letters of Cortes 

day I left the city of Chuniltecal, I marched four leagues 
to some hamlets of the city of Guasucingo, ^ where I 
was well received by the natives, who gave me some 
female sla\-es, and wearing apparel, and certain small 
pieces of gold. This last in all was but little, because 
these people did not have much, as they belong to the 
league and alliance of the Tascaltecas, and they are shut 
in by Montezuma, and surrounded by his country in such 
a manner that they can have no commerce with any 
other province except their own, and therefore, they live 
very poorly. 

The following day I mounted the pass between the two 
mountains of which I have spoken, and, descending it, 
we beheld one of the provinces, of the country of the 
said Montezuma, called Chalco,^ where, about two 
leagues before we reached the town, I found a very good 
dwelling place, which had been recently built, and was 
so large that all my company and myself were very 
commodiously lodged in it; this although I had with me 
more than four thousand Indians, of these provinces of 
Tascaltecal, Guasucingo, Chuniltecal, and Cempoal, for 
whom there were ample provisions of food. Here great " 
fires of plenty of wood were burned in all the rooms, for 
the cold was very bitter, as we were surrounded by two 
mountains both covered with snow. 

Certain persons came to speak to me here who seemed 
to be chiefs, amongst whom was one who, I was 
told, was brother to Montezuma. He brought me about 
three thousand dollars of gold, and told me in Monte- 

> Spelled in various ways. Guajocingo, or Huejocingo, in the state 
of Puebla. 

2 The province of Chalco had been conquered by the Mexicans 
only after much bloodshed, and was held in subjection by force; hence 
its people were not loyal subjects to be counted upon in time of need. 
They were the first to profit by the Spaniards' arrival in the valley to 
throw off their allegiance. Cortes promised them relief, and assured 
them that he had come to redress their wrongs and establish justice. 

Second Letter 227 

zuma's name that the latter sent that to me, and prayed 
me to go back, and not insist on coming to his city, as 
the country was scarce of food, and the roads leading 
there were bad; and, as it was all on the water, I could 
enter it only in canoes. He also enumerated many other 
inconveniences to prevent me going. They said I had 
only to say what I wanted, for Montezuma their sovereign 
would order it to be given to me, and would likewise 
agree to give me annually certum quid, which would 
be taken to the coast, or wherever I wished. I received 
them very well and gave them some Spanish articles, 
such as they esteem very much, especially to him who 
was said to be a brother of Montezuma's. I replied to 
his embassy, that, if it was in my hands to return, I would 
do so in order to please Montezuma, but that I had come 
to this country by order of Your Majesty, and that the 
principal thing, of which you had ordered me to give an 
account, was Montezuma, and his great city, of whom, 
and of which. Your Majesty had possessed information 
since a long time. I said also that they should tell him 
from me, that I prayed him to approve my going to see 
him, because no injury would result from it to his person 
and country, but rather that he should, receive good; 
and if after I had seen him he did not wish to have me 
in his company, then I would return; and that we could 
better decide between ourselves, how he should serve 
Your Highness, than through third persons, even were 
they those in whom we had full confidence. With this 
answer they departed. 

Judging from appearances which we observed, and the 
preparation which had been made in this dwelling place 
of which I have spoken, the Indians expected to attack 
us that night, and perceiving this, I took such precaution 
that they, noting it, changed their plan, and secretly 
sent away that night a number of people who had gathered 
in the woods, as was seen by our watchmen and scouts. 

228 Letters of Cortes 

At daybreak I set out for a town, called Amaqueruca,^ 
which is two leagues from here, in the province of 
Chalco, which in its principal town, and the 
Descends villages within two leagues of it, has some 
into the Val- twenty thousand inhabitants. We were lodged 
ley of in some very good houses, belonging to the chief 

of the said town, and many persons who seemed 
to be of high rank came to speak to me, telling me that 
Montezuma, their sovereign lord, had sent them to await 
me here, and to see that I was provided with every- 
thing necessary. The lord of this place gave me some 
forty female slaves, and three thousand castellanos. 
During the two days I was there, they provided us amply 
with all necessary food. 

The next day, accompanied by those chiefs who had 
come on the part of Montezuma to wait for me, I left, 
and slept four leagues farther on, in a small town, almost 
half of it on the water of a great lake, where they lodged 
us very well ; and on the land side there is a chain of very 
rugged and stony mountains. Here likewise they would 
have been very willing to try their forces with us, except, 
as it appeared, the}^ wanted to do so with safety, and by 
surprising us in the night. But, as I was so well informed, 
I anticipated their intention, and kept such a guard that 
night, that of their spies who came, some in canoes by 
water, and others by descending from the mountains, 
to soe if there was any possibility of carrying out their 
wishes, some fifteen or twenty were taken by our men, 
and killed. Thus, few returned to give the information 
they had come to secure; and finding us always so well 
prepared they decided to change their tactics, and treat 
us well. 

The next morning, just as I was ready to leave the 
town, there arrived some ten or twelve chiefs, as I learned 

» Amecamecan, now called Amecameca; it lies at the foot of 
Popocatapetl, some two leagues from Tlalmanalco. 

Second Letter 229 

afterwards, and among them a great lord, a youth of 
about five and twenty years, to whom all showed great 
attention, so much so, that, after he had descended from 
a Htter in which he had come, all the others began clearing 
the road of the stones and straw before him. Approach- 
ing, he told me he came on the part of Montezuma, his 
sovereign lord, and that the latter besought me to pardon 
him if he did not come in person to see me, and receive 
me, as he was indisposed, but that his city was already 
near, and, inasmuch as I was still determined to go to 
him, we would meet there, when I should learn from 
him his disposition towards Your Highness's service. It 
was added that he still besought me, if it were pos- 
sible, not to go thither, as I would have much trouble 
and privation to endure, and that he was much ashamed 
not to be able to provide there as he desired. With 
this, they fell on their knees, protesting so much, that 
it only remained to say that they would defend the road 
by force if I still insisted in going on. I satisfied, and 
calmed them with the best words possible, saying that 
my going thither would do them no harm, but bring them 
many advantages ; and so, after giving them some presents, 
they took their leave. 

( I departed immediately after them, accompanied by 
maTny people who seemed to be of much importance, as 
it afterwards appeared, and I continued along the road 
by the shore of that great lake. A league from my last 
stopping place, I saw in this lake, two musket-shots 
distant from the shore, a small city which might have had 
one or two thousand inhabitants, and which was all 
afloat on the water ; having many towers as it seemed but 
no entrance. About a league from there, we reached a 
great causeway, as broad as a horseman's lance, extending 
within the lake about two-thirds of a league. This led 
to the city, ^ which though small, was the most beautiful 

» The town of Cuitlahuac, now called Tlahua, on the lake of 

230 Letters of Cortes 

we had yet seen, not only on account of the well decorated 
houses and towers, hut also because of the excellent 
construction of its foundations in the water. 

In this city, which has about two thousand inhabitants, 
we were very well received, and they gave us excellent 
food. The lord and chiefs of it came to speak with me, 
and prayed me to remain, and sleep there; however, 
Montezuma's messengers who were with me told me not 
to stop, but to go on to another city, called Iztapalapan, ^ 
about three leagues distant, belonging to a brother of 
Montezuma ; so I did this. The exit from the said city 
where we dined, whose name at present does not occur 
to my memory, is by another causeway, a long league in 
length, w^hich extends to the mainland. 

Having arrived at this city of Iztapalapan, the chief 
of it came out to receive me, as well as one from 
Descrip- another great city, called Calnaalcan, 2 which 
tion of is near, being perhaps three leagues distant, 
Iztapalapan q^^(^ these Were accompanied by many other 
chiefs who were waiting for me; and they gave me 
three or four thousand castellanos, some female slaves, 
and wearing apparel, receiving me very well. This city of 

Texcoco. The Spaniards called it Venezuela (little Venice). Clavigero 
insists that, after leaving Cuitlahuac for Iztapalapan, the two discon- 
tented brothers of the King of Texcoco, Ixtlilochitl and Coanacochtzin, 
met Cortes, and offered their alliance, explaining their grievances against 
their brother Cacamatzin, the reigning King, and Montezurna their 
uncle ; and that Cortes went on their invitation to Texcoco. As neither 
Cortes nor Bernal Diaz mentions what would have been an important 
and interesting divergence from their route, and both account for 
almost every hour of the time, by recording their daily movements, 
the visit to Texcoco seems inore than doubtful. The interview with 
the two princes might easily have taken place on the road. 

» Iztapalapan, seven miles from Mexico, preserves its ancient 
name, though the lake has long since receded, leaving it high and dry. 
The city had between 12,000 and 15,000 houses, and was ruled by 
Cuitlahuatzin, a brother of Montezuma. The chief glory of Iztapalapan 
was its botanical and zoological garden, with reservoirs full of all kinds 
of fish, such as no town in Europe possessed at that time. 

2 Coyohuacan. 

Second Letter 231 

Iztapalapan has some twelve or fifteen thousand house- 
holds, and stands on the shore of a great salt lake, half 
of it in the water, and the other half on land. Its chief 
has some new houses, which, though still unfinished, 
are as good as the best in Spain; I say as large and well 
constructed, not only in the stone work, but also in the 
wood work, and all arrangements for every kind of house- 
hold service, all except the relief work, and other rich de- 
tails, which are used in Spanish houses, but are not found 
here. There are both upper and lower rooms, and very 
refreshing gardens, with many trees and sweet scented 
flowers, bathing places of fresh water, well constructed, 
with steps leading down to the bottom. He has also a 
large garden round his house, in which there is a terrace 
with many beautiful corridors and rooms, and, within 
the garden, is a great pool of fresh water, very well built 
with sides of handsome masonry, around which runs 
an open walk w^th well laid tile pavements, so broad 
that four persons can walk abreast on it, and four hundred 
paces square, making, in all, sixteen hundred paces. 
On the other side of this promenade, towards the wall 
of the garden, it is all surrounded by a lattice work 
of canes, behind which are arbours, planted with 
fragrant shrubs. The pool contains many fish, and 
water fowl, such as ducks, cranes, and other kinds of 
water birds, in such numbers that the water is covered 
with them. 

The next day after I had arrived in this city, I left, and 
having gone half a league, I reached another causeway, 
leading out into the lake a distance of two leagues to the 
great city of Temixtitan, which stands in the midst of 
the said lake. This causeway is two lances broad, and 
so well built that eight horsemen can ride abreast; and, 
within these two leagues, there are three cities, on one 
and the other side of the said highway, one called Mesical- 
singo, founded for the greater part within the said lake, 


232 Letters of Cortes 

and the other two, called Niciaca, and Huchilohuchico,' 
on the other shore of it, with many of their houses on 
the water. 

The first of these cities may have three thousand 
families, the second more than six thousand, and the 
third four or five thousand. In all of them, there are very 
good edifices, of houses and towers, especially the resi- 
dences of the lords and chief persons, and the mosques 
or oratories, where they keep their idols. These cities 
have a great trade in salt, which they make from the 
water of the lake, and from the crust of the land which is 
bathed by the lake, and which they boil in a certain 
manner, making loaves of salt, which they sell to the 
inhabitants in the neighbourhood. 

I followed the said causeway for about half a league 
before I came to the city proper of Temixtitan. I 
Cortes found at the junction of another causeway. 
Enters the which joins this one from the mainland, 
City of another strong fortification, with two towers, 

TUT ' cj ' 

^^^° surrounded by walls, twelve feet high with 
castellated tops. This commands the two roads, and 
has only two gates, by one of which they enter, and from 
the other they come out. About one thousand of the 
principal citizens came out to meet me, and speak to me, 
all richly dressed alike according to their fashion; and 
when they had come, each one in approaching me, and 
before speaking, would use a ceremony which is very 
common amongst them, putting his hand on the ground, 
and afterw^ards kissing it, so that I was kept waiting 
almost an hour, until each had performed his ceremony. 
There is a wooden bridge, ten paces broad, in the very 
outskirts of the city, across an opening in the causeway, 
where the water may flow in and out as it rises and falls. 
This bridge is also for defence, for they remove and replace 
the long broad wooden beams, of which the bridge is 

> Huithilohuchico — Huitzilopocho — is the present Cherubusco. 

Second Letter 233 

made, whenever they wish; and there are many of these 
bridges in the city, as Your Highness will see in the 
account which I shall make of its affairs. 

Having passed this bridge, we were received by that 
lord, Montezuma, with about two hundred chiefs, all 
barefooted, and dressed in a kind of livery, very rich, 
according to their custom, and some more so than others. 
They approached in two processions near the walls of 
the street, which is very broad, and straight, and beautiful, 
and very uniform from one end to the other, being about 
two thirds of a league long, and having, on both sides, very 
large houses, both dwelling places, and mosques. Monte- 
zuma came in the middle of the street, with two lords, 
one on the right side, and the other on the left, one of 
whom was the same great lord, who, as I said, came in 
that litter to speak with me, and the other was the brother 
of Montezuma, lord of that city Iztapalapan, whence I 
had come that day. All were dressed in the same manner, 
except that Montezuma was shod, and the other lords 
were barefooted. Each supported him below his arms, 
and as we approached each other, I descended from my 
horse, and was about to embrace him, but the two lords 
in attendance prevented me, with their hands, that I 
might not touch him, and they, and he also, made the 
ceremony of kissing the ground. This done, he ordered 
his brother who came with him, to remain with me, and 
take me by the arm, and the other attendant walked a 
little ahead of us. After he had spoken to me, all the 
other lords, who formed the two processions, also saluted 
me, one after the other, and then returned to the pro- 
cession. When I approached to speak to Montezuma, 
I took off a collar of pearls and glass diamonds, that I 
wore, and put it on his neck, and, after we had gone 
through some of the streets, one of his servants came 
with two collars, wrapped in a cloth, which were made 
of coloured shells. These they esteem very much; 

234 Letters of Cortes 

and from each of the collars hung eight golden shrimps 
executed with great perfection and a span long. When 
he received them, he turned towards me, and put them 
on my neck, and again went on through the streets, as 
I have already indicated, until we came to a large and 
handsome house, which he had prepared for our reception. 
There he took me by the hand, and led me into a spacious 
room, in front of the court where we had entered, where 
he made me sit on a very rich platform, which had been 
ordered to be made for him, and told me to wait there; 
and then he went away. 

After a little while, when all the people of my company 
were distributed to their quarters, he returned w4th many 
valuables of gold and silver w^ork, and five or six thousand 
pieces of rich cotton stuffs, woven, and embroidered in 
divers ways. After he had given them to me, he sat down 
on another platform, which they immediately prepared 
near the one where I was seated, and being seated he 
spoke in the following manner: 

" We have known for a long time, from the chroni- 
cles of our forefathers, that neither I, nor those who 
Monte- inhabit this country, are descendants from 
zuma's First the aborigines of it, ^ but from strangers who 
Discourse came to it from very distant parts; and we 
to Cortes ^j^^ ^^^d, that our race was brought to 
these parts by a lord, whose vassals they all were, and 
who returned to his native country. After a long time 
he came back, but it was so long, that those who remained 
here were married with the native women of the country, 
and had many descendants, and had built towns where 
they were living ; when, therefore, he wished to take them 
away with him, they would not go, nor still less receive 
him as their ruler, so he departed. 2 And we have al- 
ways held that those who descended from him would 

'[See Appendix III. at close of Letter 
' See Appendix IV. at close of Letter. 

Second Letter 235 

come to subjugate this country and us, as his "vassals; 
and according to the direction from which you say you 
come, which is where the sun rises, and from what you 
tell us of your great lord, or king, who has sent you here, 
we believe, and hold for certain, that he is our rightful 
sovereign, especially as you tell us that since many da3^s 
he has had news of us. Hence you may be sure, that 
we shall obey you, and hold you as the representative of 
this great lord of whom you speak, and that in this there 
will be no lack or deception ; and throughout the whole 
country you may command at your will (I speak of what 
I possess in my dominions), because you will be obeyed, 
and recognised, and all we possess is at your disposal. 

" Since you are in your rightful place, and in your own 
homes, rejoice and rest, free from all the trouble of the 
journey, and wars which you have had, for I am well aware 
of all that has happened to you, between Puntunchan 
and here, and I know very well, that the people of Cem- 
poal, and Tascaltecal, have told you many evil things re- 
specting me. Do not believe more than you see with 
your own eyes, especially from those who are my enemies, 
and were my vassals, yet rebelled against me on your 
coming (as they say), in order to help you. I know they 
have told you also that I have houses, with walls of gold, 
and that the furniture of my halls, and other things of my 
service, were also of gold, and that I am, or make myself, 
a god, and many other things. The houses you have 
seen are of lime and stone and earth." And then he 
held up his robes, and showing me his body he said to me, 
" Look at me, and see that I am flesh and bones, the same 
as you, and everybody, and that I am mortal, and tangi- 
ble. " And touching his arms and body with his hands, 
" Look how they have lied to you! It is true indeed that 
I have some things of gold, which have been left to me 
by my forefathers. All that I possess, you may have 
whenever you wish. 

236 Letters of Cortes 

"I sliall now go to other houses where I Hve; but you 
will be provided here with everything necessary for you 
and your people, and you shall suffer no annoyance, for 
you are in your own house and country." 

I answered to all he said, certifying that which seemed 
to be suitable, especially in confirming his belief that it 
was Your Majesty whom they were expecting. After 
this, he took his leave, and, when he had gone, we were 
well provided with chickens, and bread, and fruits, and 
other necessities, especially such as were required for the 
semce of our quarters. Thus I passed six days well 
provided with everything necessary, and visited by 
many of the lords, y 

I have already mentioned at the beginning. Most 
Catholic Lord, that when I started from the city of Vera 
Cruz, in search of this lord, Montezuma, I left there a 
hundred and fifty men, to build that fort which I had 
begun, and I likewise stated, that I had left many villages 
and forts in the neighbourhood of that town, under the 
royal dominion of Your Highness, and the natives as 
very loyal vassals of Your Majesty. 

While I was in the city of Chuiultecal, I received 
letters from the captain, whom I had left in my 
Treachery place at Vera Cruz, informing me that Quauh- 
of Quauh- popoca, ^ lord of the city called Almeria, 
popoca Y^^^ ggj^^ messengers to him, saying, that if 
he had not 3^et offered to become a vassal of Your 

1 Quauhpopoca commanded the garrisons at Nauhtla (named 
Almeria by the Spaniards) and Tochpan, which is the present town of 

If Quauhpopoca acted by his sovereign's orders, he merely did his 
duty, and merited no punishment from Cortes, but if, on the other 
hand, he acted on his own initiative, then Montezuma was free from 
blame and should not have been degraded by the imposition of chains. 
Cortes's action is indefensible; his intention doubtless was to convince 
the emperor that there was no depth of humiliation to which he might 
not be brought, and to prove to the people that to kill a Spaniard was 
the greatest of crimes, sure to be followed by the direst punishment. ' 

Second Letter 237 

Highness, nor had appeared to give his obedience, with 
all his lands, as he was obliged to do, it was because 
he had to cross an enemy's country, and that, fearing 
to be molested by them, he had deferred coming; but 
to send him four Spaniards to accompany him, because, 
they, through whose country he had to pass, knowing 
for what purpose he was coming, would not then dare 
molest him, and he would immediately come. The cap- 
tain, believing that what the said Qualpopoca had sent 
to say was true, as many others had done the same, had 
despatched him the four Spaniards, but, after he got them 
in his power, he tried to kill them, in such a way as would 
make it appear that he had not done it. After he had killed 
two of them, however, the other two, wounded, escaped 
to the forests. The captain had then attacked the city 
of Almeria, with fifty Spaniards, two horsemen, two 
field pieces, and about eight thousand friendly Indians. 
He fought with the inhabitants of the said city, and 
slaughtered many of them, driving out the rest, and burnt, 
and destroyed it, because the Indians accompanying 
him were their enemies, and had put much diligence into 
it. Qualpopoca, the lord of the city, together with the 
other chiefs, who had come thither to assist him, escaped 
by taking flight. 

The captain was informed by some of the prisoners, 
taken amongst the defenders of the city, that Qualpopoca 
had killed the said Spaniards, whom we had sent, because 
Montezuma had ordered him, and his other vassals, that, 
as soon as I left the town of Vera Cruz, they should attack 
those vassals who had rebelled against him, and offered 
themselves to the service of Your Highness; and that 
he should use every means he could to kill the Spaniards 
I had left there, so that they could not aid nor favour 
them. This was the reason they had done what they 

Six days having passed, Most Invincible Prince, after 

238 Letters of Cortes 

I had arrived in the city of Temixtitan, and, having seen 
something of it, although little in proportion to the 
amount there is to be seen and noted, it appeared to me, 
even from what I had seen of it and the country, that it 
would be conducive to Your Royal Highness's service, 
and to our security, that Montezuma should be in my 
power, and not at his entire liberty, so that he might 
not relax his intention and disposition to serv-e Your 
Highness. I thought this, especially because we Span- 
iards are somewhat touchy and importunate, and, if he 
should happen to become angry, he could do us such 
injury with his great power, that there would remain no 
recollection of us; and also because, having him in my 
power, all the other countries who were subject to him, 
would come to the knowledge and ser\4ce of Your 
Majesty, as afterguards happened. 

I determined to seize him, and confine him in my 

quarters, which are very strong; and, thinking over 

all the forms and ways in which I could 

ores *°s g^^^^^pi^gj^ ^j^^g^ without provoking any scan- 

Montezumadal or commotion upon his arrest, I remem- 
bered what my captain at Vera Cruz had 
written about the occun-ence in the city of Almeria, as I 
have related, and how it had become known, that all that 
had happened there had taken place by Montezuma's 
command. I stationed sufficient guards in the cross 
streets, and went to the palace of Montezuma, as I had 
at other times gone to see him; and, after conversing 
with him lightly on pleasant subjects, and after he had 
given me some valuables in gold, and one of his daughters, 
and some daughters of other lords to some of my com- 
panions, I told him that I had learned what had happened 
in the city of Nautecal, or Almeria, and about the Span- 
iards whom they had killed there, and that Qualpopoca 
gave as his excuse, that all he had done had been by 
Montezuma's order, and that, as his vassal, he could not 

Second Letter 239 

have done otherwise. I said that, because I did not 
beHeve Qualpopoca's excuse of his fault, it seemed to 
me that he ought to send for him, and the other chiefs 
who had helped him in the murder of the Spaniards, so 
that the truth might be known, and they be punished, 
and Your Majesty might clearly perceive his good dis- 
position. Otherwise the reports of those wicked men 
might provoke Your Highness to anger against him, 
from which, instead of the favours Your Highness would 
now grant him, evil would result; for I was convinced 
that the truth was contrary to what they declared. He 
immediately sent for certain of his people, to whom he 
gave a small stone figure, like a seal, which he wore tied 
to his arm, ordering them to go to the city of Almeria, 
which is about sixty or seventy leagues from that of 
Muxtitan [Mexico], and bring the said Qualpopoca; to 
ascertain what others had taken part in the murder of 
the Spaniards, and to bring them Hkewise; and, if they 
resisted, to bring them as prisoners, and, if they should 
resist imprisonment, to call upon certain tribes in the 
neighborhood, which he then named, to seize them by 
force of arms; but on no account to return without them. 
These men immediately left, and, after they had gone, 
I told Montezuma that I was very grateful to him for the 
diligence he had used in the imprisonment of those men, 
for I must render an account to Your Royal Highness 
for those murdered Spaniards. To enable me to give 
this, it now only remained that he should stop in my 
quarters, until the truth was established, and it was 
known that he was blameless. I earnestly prayed him 
not to feel pained at this, because he would not be kept 
a prisoner, but would have entire liberty; that I would 
place no impediment to his service and authority in his 
dominions, and that he might choose any room he pleased 
in the palace where I was, where he should remain at his 
pleasure, well assured that he should suffer no annoyance 


240 Letters of Cortes 

or unpleasantness, but rather that, in addition to his own 
attendants, my companions would also obey his com- 
mands. We had much conversation and argument about 
this, which would be too lengthy to write, and even too 
prolix to recount to Your Highness, as well as of little 
bearing on the case, hence I will not say more than that 
finally he agreed to come with me, and immediately 
gave orders to prepare the apartment he wished to 
occupy, which was well fitted up, and put in order. This 
having been done, many lords came, and having taken 
off their vestments, which they carried under their arms, 
barefooted they brought the litter, not much adorned, 
and, w^eeping, they placed him on it, in profound silence. 
Thus we went to my quarters without causing any com- 
motion in the city, although some had begun, but, when 
Montezuma heard of it, he ordered it to be stopped, and 
thus all was as completely quiet as though nothing had 
happened; and this continued all the time I kept Monte- 
zuma prisoner, for he lived at his entire pleasure, and with 
all his service, just as he had it in his ow^n palace, which 
was great and marv^ellous, as I will hereafter say. And 
I, and those of my company, did everything we could 
to please him. 

Some fifteen or twenty days having passed since his 
imprisonment, those who had been sent for Qual- 
Monte- popoca, and the others who had killed the 
zumain Spaniards, returned, bringing the said Qual- 
Chains popoca, and one of his sons, and with them 
fifteen other persons w^hom they said had taken 
part in the murders. Qualpopoca was carried in a 
litter, very much in the style of a lord, as he in reality 
was. They were delivered to me, and I kept them under 
guard in prison, and afterwards when they confessed that 
they had killed the Spaniards, I had them interrogated 
as to w^hether they were vassals of Montezuma. Qual- 
popoca answered, asking if there existed any other lord 

Second Letter 241 

of whom he might be vassal, as much as to say there was 
no other. I hkewise asked them if what had been done 
there was by Montezuma's order; and they answered, 
" No, " although afterguards, when the sentence, that they 
should be burned, was carried into execution, all with 
one voice said it was true that Montezuma had ordered 
them to do it, and that they had obeyed his command. 
So they were burned publicly, in one of the squares, 
without occasioning any commotion, and the day when 
they were burned, as soon as they confessed that Monte- 
zuma commanded them to kill the Spaniards, I ordered 
him to be put in chains, which frightened him not a little. 
After I had spoken to him, I removed the irons 
the same day, and he remained very satisfied, and ever 
afterwards I endeavoured to please him, and keep him 
satisfied as far as possible; especially did I always say 
publicly to all the natives of the country, nobles as well 
as others, who came to see him, that Your Majesty had 
been pleased that Montezuma should continue to exercise 
authority, recognising the suzerainty of Your Highness, 
and that Your Highness would be well pleased by their 
obeying him, and regarding him as their lord, as they 
had before I came to the country. So good was my 
treatment of him, and the satisfaction he felt, that some- 
times, and frequently, I offered him his liberty, praying 
him to return to his palace ; but he told me each time that 
he was contented there, and that he did not wish to go, 
because nothing that he wished was wanting, more than 
in his own palace, whereas it might happen that, if he 
went back, the lords of the country, his vassals, would 
importune him to do things, in spite of himself, which 
would be contrary to his own wish, and to Your High- 
ness's service. He added, that he was determined to 
serve Your Majesty in all that was possible, and up till 
now he had told them what he wanted done, and was 
content where he was, for, should anyone attempt to 

VOL. I. 16 

242 Letters of Cortes 

make suggestions to him now, he could excuse himself 
by answering that he was not free, and thus evade them. 
He often asked permission to go and enjoy himself, and 
pass the time in certain pleasure houses, both out of the 
city and in it, and I never denied him this. He often 
would, \\'ith five or six Spaniards go to enjoy himself 
one or two leagues out of the city, returning very gladly 
to the quarters where I kept him; and, whenever he went 
out, he would present many valuables, and clothing, as 
well to the Spaniards who went with him, as to the natives, 
who always accompanied him to at least the number of 
three thousand men, most of them nobles and persons of 
distinction; and, as he always gave them m.any banquets 
and feasts, they who went with him were always 

When I afterwards understood perfectly, that he 

was wholly devoted to the service of Your Royal 

Highness, I praved him, so that I might give 

0ort6S i ^ 

Investigates ^ better account to Your Majesty of this 
the Gold country, to show me the mines from which 
Mines of j^g obtained gold, and he answered with perfect 
Mexico good will that he would gladly do so. He im- 
mediately sent certain of his servants, distributing them 
two by two over four provinces, from which he said he 
got the gold; and he asked me to send Spaniards with 
them, to see how it was taken out. So, for each of his 
own people, I sent two Spaniards, and some went to a 
province, called Cuzula, eighty leagues from the great 
city of Temixtitan, the natives of which are his vassals, 
and there they were shown three rivers, from each of 
which they brought me specimens of gold of very good 
quality, although it was taken out with mean tools, as 
they had only those with which the Indians extract it. 
On the road, they passed through three provinces, ac- 
cording to what the Spaniards said, of fine land, and many 
hamlets and cities, and towns, very populous, and con- 

Second Letter 243 

taining buildings equal to any in Spain. They told me 
especially of a house and fort, greater, and stronger, and 
better built, than the castle of Burgos, and that the 
people of this province, called Tamazulapa, were better 
dressed than any others we have seen, and, as it seemed 
to them, more intelligent. Others went to another 
province called Malinaltepeque, another seventy leagues 
from the said great city, and more towards the sea-coast; 
and they brought me likewise specimens of gold from a 
great river there. 

The others went to a country, called Teniz, ^ farther 
up this river, belonging to a people of a different language 
from that of Culua, and the ruler of that country is called 
Coatelicamat. His country lies in a very high rugged 
mountain chain, and is not subject to Montezuma; the 
people of that province are very war-like, fighting with 
lances, twenty or thirty palms long, and, because they 
are not vassals of Montezuma, the messengers who ac- 
companied the Spaniards did not dare to enter that 
country, without first notifying the chief and asking 
his permission. They told him they had come with the 
Spaniards to see the gold mines in his country, and be- 
sought him, on my part, and that of Montezuma, their 
lord, to permit it. Coatelicamat answered, that he was 
very willing the Spaniards should come into his country, 
and see the mines, and whatever else they wished, but 
that the Culuans, who were subject to Montezuma, must 
not come, because they were his enemies. The Spaniards 
were somewhat perplexed, as to whether they should go 
alone, or not; those who accompanied them told them 
not to go, as they would be killed, and that it was in 
order to kill them that Coatelicamat would not permit 
the Culuans to accompany them. At last they deter- 
mined to go alone, and the lord and his people received 
them very well, and showed them seven or eight mines 

' Tenich. 

244 Letters of Cortes 

wlicro they took out gold; and in their presence the In- 
dians took some, out of which they brought me specimens. 
CoateHcamat sent me certain messengers with the 
Spaniards, offering himself and his country for the service 
of Your Majesty; and he sent me certain valuables of 
gold, and such wearing apparel as they have. 

The others went to another province, called Tuchite- 
pequc, ^ which is almost in a direct line towards the sea, 
twelve leagues beyond the province of Malinaltepeque 
where, as I have already said, gold had been found. 
Two other rivers were shown them there, where gold is 
also found. 

As there is in those parts, according to what the Span- 
iards who went there informed me, every facility for 
making plantations, and procuring gold, I begged Monte- 
zuma to establish a plantation for Your Majesty in that 
pro\4nce of Malinaltepeque, which seems the best adapted, 
and he put such diligence into it, that, within two months 
after I had spoken to him, sixty fanegas^ of maize, and 
ten of beans had been sown, and two thousand plants of 
cacap, ^ which bears a fruit somewhat like almonds. 
This fruit they sell ground, and esteem so highly, that 
it is used instead of money all over the country, and with 
it everything can be bought in the market places and 
elsewhere. He built four good houses, in one of which, 
besides the living apartments, they made a water tank, 
and put five hundred ducks in it; these are much es- 
teemed, because they pluck their feathers every year, and 
use them for making wearing apparel. And they placed 
fifteen hundred chickens in it, not to speak of other farm 
stock, which the Spaniards judged to be worth twenty 
thousand dollars of gold. I also prayed Montezuma to 
tell me if on the sea-coast there was any river or bay 

' Xuchitepec. 

» Hanega, also called fanega, a dry measure corresponding approxi- 
mately to the bushel. 

i Cacao from which chocolate is obtained. 

Second Letter 245 

where ships could enter safely, and he answered me that 
he did not know, but that he would have the coast drawn 
for me, with its bays and rivers, and that I might send 
the Spaniards to see them, and that he would give me 
people to guide and take them; and thus we did. 

Another day they brought me a cloth, on which the 
whole coast was drawn, showing a river, larger than the 
others, flowing into the sea; this seemed to be amongst 
the mountain chains called Sanmin, ^ which form such a bay, 
that the pilots heretofore believed it divided the province 
called Mazamalco. Montezuma told me I might choose 
whom I wished to send, and he would provide means for 
seeing and learning everything. I immediately named ten 
men, amongst them some pilots and persons acquainted 
with the sea. Furnished with the provisions he gave 
us, they left, and explored the whole coast, from the 
port of Chalchilmeca, 2 which is called San Juan, where 
I first disembarked. 

They covered about sixty odd leagues, but nowhere 
found a river or bay where ships could enter, al- 
though there are many very large ones on ^j^^ spani- 
the said coast; they took soundings of all ards Search 
from the canoes, and finally reached the said ^or a 

province of Cuacalco,^ where was the river ^^ °^ 
shown on the chart. The chief of that province, called 
Tuchintecla, received them very well and gave them 
canoes to explore the river. They found the shallowest 
part at its mouth, two and a half fathoms in depth, and, 
twelve leagues up the river, the greatest depth they found 
was five or six fathoms; from their observations they 
judged it has about the same depth for thirty leagues 

' Coatzacoalco was the name of the river; the place described is 
between the sierras of San Martin and Sant Anton, hence the name 
Sanmin may be a careless or an intentional contraction of San Martin. 

2 Chalchuihcuecan was the Indian name for San Juan da Ulua, the 
port of Vera Cruz. 

3 Coatzacoalco. 

246 Letters of Cortes 

up from its moutli. On its banks, are many large towns, 
with an innumerable population, and all the province is 
level, and rich and abundant in produce. The people 
of this province are not vassals or subjects of Montezuma, 
but rather his enemies. The lord of it sent word, when 
the Spaniards arrived, that the Culuans must not enter 
his country because they were his enemies, but, when the 
Spaniards returned home with this account, he sent certain 
messengers with them, who brought me valuables of 
gold, tiger-skins, feather-work, stones, and stuffs. These 
told me, on his part, that Tuchintecla had known of us 
for a long time, because his friends of Puntunchan (which 
is the river of Grijalba), had told him that I had passed 
there, and had fought with them when they did not 
admit me to their town, and how afterwards they became 
friends of mine, and vassals of Your Majesty. The mes- 
sengers said that Tuchintecla, likewise, offered himself to 
Your Royal Highness, with all his country, and he prayed 
me to consider him as my friend, on conditions that the 
Culuans should not enter his country, though I might 
see everything in it, which might be useful to Your 
Royal Highness, of which he would give whatever I 
might direct every year. 

When I learned, from the Spaniards who visited that 
province, of its adaptability for settlement, and of the 
harbour they had found, I rejoiced greatly; for, ever since 
I came to this country, I have sought to find a harbour 
on its coast, where I might found a settlement. I had 
never succeeded, however; nor is one to be found on the 
whole coast, from the river of San Antonio, which is next 
the Grijalba to that of Panuco which is down the coast, 
where certain Spaniards settled by order of Francisco de 
Garay, as I shall hereafter recount to Your Highness. 

To assure myself still more about that province and 
harbour, and of the good will of the natives, and of every- 
thing else necessary for a settlement, I again sent certain 

Second Letter 247 

of my experienced people to ascertain all these matters. 
They went with the messengers, whom that chief Tuchin- 
tecla had sent to me, taking some things for him which 
I gave them. Upon their arrival, they were well re- 
ceived by him ; and they again examined and sounded the 
harbour and river to see whether a town might be founded. 
They afterwards brought me a long and exact description, 
saying that there was everything necessary for a settle- 
ment, and that the chief of the province was very content, 
strongly desiring to serve Your Highness. When this 
account came, I immediately dispatched a captain, with 
one hundred and fifty men, to lay out, and build a town, 
and construct a port; for the chief of that province had 
offered to do this as well as everything else that might 
be necessary or commanded by me; and he even built 
six houses on the site chosen for the town, and said that 
he was very pleased we should come there to settle, and 
remain in his country. 

In the past chapters, Most Powerful Lord, I have said 
that, at the time of my coming to the great city of Temix- 
titan, a great lord had come, on behalf of Montezuma, 
to meet me on the road, who, as I learned afterwards, 
was a near relative of the latter's, and had dominions 
called Haculuacan,^ adjoining those of Montezuma. The 
capital of , these is a very great city on this salt lake, 
six leagues by canoe, and ten by land, from this city of 
Temixtitan. The city is called Tezcuco,^ and it may have 

» Acolhuacan. 

2 Texcoco, capital of the kingdom of Acolhuacan, stood at the 
N. E. extremity of the lake of the same name. It rivalled Mexico 
in size and importance, was the centre of Nahua culture, and has been 
described as the " Athens " of the Aztecs. The triple alliance of Mexico, 
Texcoco, and Tlacopan (Tacuba) formed the core of the Aztec Empire, 
where centred the civilisation of Anahuac. The Kings of Texcoco 
and Tlacopan recognised the King of Mexico as their over-lord in war , 
and in the affairs of the central administration, but in all other respects 
these sovereigns were equal, absolute, and independent, in their respec- 
tive kingdoms. Texcoco was older than Mexico, and Nezahualcoyotl, 

248 Letters of Cortes 

about thirty thousand households. There arc in it, Sire, 
very wonderful houses, and mosques, and very large, and 
well built, oratories; it has also extensive market places. 
Besides this city, he possesses two others, one, called Ocur- 
man,' at three leagues from Tezcuco, and the other, called 

the greatest of its rulers, bore the title of Aculhua Tectitl, which Mexican 
historians define as equivalent to Caesar. This King once declared war 
upon Mexico over a trifling question of etiquette, sacked the capital, 
and exacted a heavy indemnity. The kingdom was divided into 
seventy-five principalities or lordships, something after the feudal 
system in Europe during the Middle Ages. The last king, before the 
arrival of the Spaniards, had been Nezahualpilli, a ruler of superior 
abilit}', one of the greatest princes in Mexican history, who left one 
hundred and forty-five children, of whom there were four sons eligible 
for the succession. The electors, under pressure of Montezuma, chose 
the eldest, with the result that the youngest, Ixtlitxochitl, contested 
the election, and plunged the country into civil strife from which it 
emerged divided, and in this weakened and distracted state Cortes 
found it upon his arrival. The ambitious Ixtlilxochitl, discontented 
with the portion he had received, was a permanent pretender to his 
brother's crown, and he secretly sent an embassy to Cortes at Cempoal 
asking his help, and oflfering his own alliance. This afforded Cortes an 
early insight into the internal dissensions of the empire, by which he 
so readily and ably profited. (Ixtlilxochitl. Hist. Chichineca.) Texcoco 
rapidly diminished both in population and importance after the con- 
quest, and Thomas Gage, who visited it in 1626, found a village 
containing one hundred Spaniards and three hundred Indians, re- 
duced to poverty. Great havoc had been wrought by the wanton 
destruction of the magnificent forests of giant cedar trees in the 
neighbourhood. Panfilo de Narvaez accused Cortes of using seven 
thousand cedar beams in the construction of his palace alone. {Voyage 
de Thomas Gage, Tom. i. cap. xiii). 

> Near by Acolman stand the pyramids of Teotihuacan which 
Cortes nowhere mentions, though it seems impossible he should not have 
seen them. Of the two large pyramids, the greater was called Tonatiuh 
Ytzaqual, or House of the Sun, and the lesser, ^letztli Ytzaqual, 
House of the Moon. The first is 680 feet long at the base and 180 feet 
high; the second is much smaller at the base and 34 feet lower. Other 
small pyramidal mounds, about thirty feet high were arranged 
in regular lines or streets, leading up to the large pyramids, and were 
dedicated to the stars. As this plain bore the Toltec name of Micoatl, 
or Way of the Dead, it has also been thought that the whole group 
formed a necropolis. Siguenza assigns their construction to the 
Olmechs, though most authorities believe they were built later, by the 

Second Letter 249 

Otumpa, six leagues distant, each containing between 
three and four thousand householders. This province 
and lordship of Haculuacan has many other villages 
and hamlets, and very good lands and farms. It joins 
on one side with the province of Tascaltecal, of which I 
have already spoken to Your Majesty. 

This lord, called Cacamazin, ^ rebelled, after the 
imprisonment of Montezuma, as well against the service 
of Your Highness, to which he had offered him- pj^^ ^^ 
self, as against Montezuma. Although he Capture 
was required many times to obey the roy- Cacamtzin 
al mandates of Your Majesty, he never complied, 
for, besides my sending to require him, Montezuma 
also sent to summon him, but he answered that, if 
anything was wanted of him, they should come to his 
country, and that there he would show what he was 
worth, and the service he was obliged to render. Ac- 
cording to my information, he had gathered a multitude 
of warriors well prepared for action. As I was unable to 

Toltecs. When I visited them in 1884 they were then so overgrown 
with vegetation, and in such a state of progressive dilapidation, that 
their total destruction seemed assured, unless prompt measures were 
taken for their preservation. (Humboldt, Vues des CordilUres. 
Chamay, Ancient Cities of the New World.) 

56. While Cacamatzin was kept in Montezuma's capital, his brother 
had been killed by the Spaniards, and a tribute levied on Texcoco, 
with such methods that it differed only in name from pillage. When 
the King contrived to escape from Mexico, he assembled other princes of 
the neighbourhood in Texcoco, among whom were his brothers Coano- 
coch and Ixtlilxochitl, to whom he proposed that a stand should be 
at once made against the invaders. Premature wranglings over the 
division of the fruits of their expected victories broke up this council, 
not only without any practical decision having been reached, but 
with sharpened animosity between the three rival brothers. Monte- 
zuma's part in the treachery, which Cortes naively describes, was 
despicable. Coanococh and Ixtlilxochitl were among the conspirators 
who betrayed the King. 

Cacamatzin, when brought into Montezuma's presence to hear his 
exhortations to make peace with the Spaniards, upbraided the Em- 
peror for his cowardice and treachery. His death will be noticed 
in a later note. 

250 Letters of Cortes 

win him, cither by warnings or requirements, I spoke to 
Montezuma, and asked his advice as to what we ought 
to do, for the rebelHon should not remain unchastised. 
He answered, that to seize him by force, would expose 
us to much danger, as he was a great lord, and had many 
forces and people, and could not be taken without great 
risk of many people perishing. He had, however, 
many chiefs from the country of Cacamazin who lived 
with him and whom he paid and he would speak with 
them, so that they might win over some of Cacamazin's 
people, and being assured that they would favour our 
party, we could take him with safety. 

Montezuma came to an understanding with those 
persons, who induced Cacamazin to meet them in the 
city of Tezcuco, for the purpose of deliberating on certain 
matters of state, for, as chiefs, they were grieved that 
he was doing certain things that might ruin him. Thus, 
they assembled in a very beautiful palace of Cacamazin's 
on the borders of the lake, so constructed that canoes 
can pass under it, going in and out. They had secretly 
prepared certain canoes, with forces in readiness, in case 
the said Cacamazin should resist his imprisonment, and, 
while in this consultation, the chiefs seized him, before 
his people suspected anything, and brought him across 
the lake to the great city, which I have already said is 
six leagues from there. When they arrived, they placed 
him in a litter, as was customary, and required by his 
rank, and brought him to me, and I ordered chains to be 
put on him, and held him in very safe keeping. 

Acting on the advice of Montezuma, in the name of 
Your Majesty, I placed his son, w^hose name is Cucuz- 
cacin, ^ in his lordship, and I ordered that all the tribes 
and lords of the said province and lordship should obey 
him as ruler, until Your Highness should order other- 

1 Cuicuitzcatzin : a younger brother who was baptised and became 
known as Don Carlos. 

Second Letter 251 

wise. Thus it was done thenceforward, and all obeyed 
and served him as lord, the same as the said Cacamazin; 
and he was obedient in everything I commanded in Your 
Majesty's name. 

A few days after the imprisonment of Cacamazin, 
Montezuma held a meeting of all the lords of the city 
and the neighbouring countries; and, when speech of 
all were assembled, he sent to ask me to Montezuma 
join them, and, when I arrived, he spoke *o ^^^ 

in this manner: "My brothers and friends, you 
know that, for a long time you, and 3^our fathers, 
and grandfathers, have been, and are, subjects and 
vassals of my forefathers and myself, and that you 
have always been well treated by them, and by me, and 
that you have likewise done what good subjects are 
obliged to do towards their rightful sovereign. I also 
believe that you have kept in mind, from your fore- 
fathers, that we are not natives of this country, and that 
they came to it from another, very far off, that they were 
brought here by a sovereign, whose vassals they all were, 
who left them in it, but who returned after a long time; 
that he found our forefathers already settled and es- 
tablished in this country, and married to the w^omen, and 
having a great increase of sons, so that they did not 
choose to return with him, nor much less to receive him as 
their sovereign; and that he departed, saying that he 
would return, or send such a force that they would be 
compelled to submit. You also know, that we have 
always expected him, and, according to what the Captain 
has told us of that King and Lord who has sent him 
here, and according to the direction whence he says he 
comes, I hold it to be certain, and you must also hold it 
thus, that his sovereign is the one we have been expect- 
ing especially as the Captain says that they have had 
information there respecting us. 

"Since our predecessors did not act justly towards 


Letters of Cortes 

their sovereign lord, let us do so, and let us give thanks 
to our gods, because that which they looked for has come 
to pass in our times. I heartily pray you, inasmuch as 
all this is well known to you, that, as you have obeyed 
me as your sovereign, henceforward you will regard and 
obey this great king, because he is your rightful sovereign, 
and, in his place, you must hold this, his Captain; also 
that all the tributes and services, which until now you 
have paid to me, you do give to him, because I also 
shall pay tribute, and ser\^e in all that he may command 
me. In so doing, you will do your duty as you are obliged 
to do, and you will, moreover, in doing this, give me much 

All this he told them, weeping the greatest tears, and 
the greatest sighs, a man can give vent to; and all those 
lords who had heard him were likewise weeping so much, 
that, during a considerable time, thev were unable to 
answer. And I assure Your Sacred Majesty, that there 
was not one among the Spaniards who heard this 
discourse who did not feel great compassion. 

After they had somewhat restrained their tears, they 
answered, that they regarded him as their sovereign, and 
they promised to do all that he ordered them to do, and 
that for this, and for the reason he had given them, 
they would do it gladly; that henceforth, for all time, 
they gave themselves as vassals of Your Highness and 
henceforth they, all together, and each one singly, would 
promise, and did promise, to comply with all that should 
be commanded them in the royal name of Your Majesty, 
as good and loyal vassals ought to do ; and that they would 
concur with their tributes and services, which heretofore 
they had given to the said Montezuma, and with every- 
thing else which might be commanded in the name of 
Your Highness. All this passed before a notary public, 
who at my request recorded it in due form, in the presence 
of many Spaniards for witnesses. 

Second Letter 253 

This decision and offer of the said lords, for the royal 
service of Your Majesty having been completed, I spoke 
to Montezuma one day, and told him that Your Treasure 
Highness was in need of gold, on account of cer- Collected 
tain works ordered to be made, and I besought by the 
him to send some of his people, and I would P^mards 
also send some Spaniards, to the provinces and houses 
of those lords who had there submitted themselves, 
to pray them to assist Your Majesty with some 
part of what they had. Besides Your Highness's need, 
this would testify that they began to render ser- 
vice, and Your Highness would the more esteem their 
good will towards your service; and I told him that he 
also should give me from his treasures, as I wished to 
send them to Your Majesty, as I had done with the other 
things. He asked me afterwards to choose the Spaniards 
whom I wished to send, and two by two, and five by 
five, he distributed them through many provinces and 
cities, whose names I do not remember, as the papers 
have been lost, and also because they were many and 
divers; and moreover some of them were at eighty and 
one hundred leagues from the said great city of Temix- 
titan. He sent some of his people with them ordering 
them to go to the lords of those provinces and cities, 
and tell them that I had commanded each one of them 
to contribute a certain measure of gold which he gave 
them. Thus it was done, and all those lords to whom 
he sent gave very compliantly, as had been asked, not 
only in valuables, but also in bars and sheets of gold, 
besides all the jewels of gold, and silver, and the feather- 
work, and the stones, and the many other things of value 
which I assigned and allotted to Your Sacred Majesty, 
amounting to the sum of one hundred thousand ducats 
and more. These, besides their value, are such, and so 
marvellous, that for the sake of their novelty and strange- 
ness they have no price, nor is it probable that all the 

254 T.cttcrs of Cortes 

princes ever heard of in the world, possess such treasures. 
Let not what I say appear fabulous to Your Majesty, 
because, in truth, all the things created on land, as well 
as in the sea, of which Montezuma had ever heard, were 
imitated in gold, most naturally, as well as in silver, and 
in precious stones, and feather work, with such perfection 
that they seemed almost real. He gave me a large num- 
ber of these for Your Highness, besides others, he ordered 
to be made in gold, for which I furnished him the 
designs, such as images, cnicifixes, medals, jewelry of 
small value, and many other of our things which I made 
them copy. In the same manner. Your Highness ob- 
tained, as the one-fifth of the silver which was received, 
one hundred and odd marks, which I made the natives 
cast in large and small plates, pomngers, cups, and 
spoons, which they executed as perfectly as we could 
make them comprehend. 

Besides these, Alontezuma gave me a large quantity of 
stuffs, which considering it was cotton, and not silk, 
was such that there could not be woven anything similar 
in the whole world, for texture, colours, and handiwork. 
Amongst these, were many marvellous dresses for men 
and women, bed clothing, with which that made of silk 
could not be compared, and other stuffs such as tapestry, 
suitable for drawing-rooms and churches. There were 
also blankets and rugs, for beds both of feather-work, 
and of cotton in divers colours, also very marvellous, 
and many other things so curious and numerous I do 
not know how to specify them to Your Majesty. He 
also gave me a dozen cerbatanas,^ with which he shoots, 
and of their perfection I likewise know not what to say 
to Your Highness; for they were decorated with very 
excellent paintings of perfect hues, in which there were 
figures of many different kinds of birds, animals, flowers, 
and divers other objects, and the mouthpieces and 

» Long tubes or pipes. 

Second Letter 255 

extremities were bordered with gold, a span deep, as was 
also the middle, all beautifully worked. He gave me a 
pouch of gold net-work for the balls, which he told me he 
would give me also of gold. He gave me also some tur- 
quoises [sic] of gold, and many other things, whose 
number is almost infinite. ^ 

To give an account, Very Powerful Lord, of the great- 
ness, and the strange and marvellous things of this great 
city of Temixtitan to Your Royal Excellency, and of all 
the dominions and splendour of Montezuma its sovereign ; 
of all the rites and customs which these people practise, 
and of the order prevailing in the government, not only 
of this city, but also of others belonging to this lord, 
much time and many very expert narrators would be 
required. I shall never be able to say one-hundredth 
part of what might be told respecting them, but, neverthe- 
less, as far as I am able, I shall speak of some of the things 
I have seen, which although badly described, I know very 
well will cause so much wonder, that they will hardly 
be believed, because even we, who see them here with 
our own eyes, are unable to comprehend their reality. 
Your Majesty may be assured, that, if there be anything 
wanting in my relation, it will be rather in falling short, 
than by overdrawing, not only in this, but in all other 
matters of which I shall give an account to Your High- 
ness; but it seems to me only just towards my Prince 
and Sovereign to tell him very clearly the truth, without 
interpolating matters which diminish or exaggerate it. 

Before beginning to describe this great city, and the 

others which I mentioned in the other chapter, it 

> It had been decided at the outset, by common accord, that, 
after deducting the royal fifth of all spoils and profits of whatso- 
ever nature, which went to the crown, one fifth of the remainder should 
be the portion of Cortes. All the rest was to be divided among the 
members of the expedition, those who remained in garrison at Vera 
Cruz sharing equally with those who started on the march to Mexico. 
(Doc. Ined., torn. XXVI., p. 5-16, tom. XXVII., p. 37. Bernal Diaz 
cap. cv.) 

256 Letters of Cortes 

appears to mc that to unclerstand them better I 
should describe Mexico, which is where this great city, 
Cortes some others of which I have spoken, and the 
Describes principal seat of Montezuma's dominion are. 
Mexico to This province is ciroular, and completely 

^^ ^^ ' surrounded by high and rugged mountains. 
Its plain is perhaps seventy leagues in circumfer- 
ence, in which there are two lakes, ^ occupying al- 
most all of it, for a canoe travels fifty leagues within 
their borders, and one of these lakes is of fresh water, 
and the other larger one is salt. The lakes are divided 
from one another on one side by a small chain of very 
high hills, in the middle of one end of this plain, except 
for a strait between these hills and the high moun- 
tains ; the strait is about a bow shot across. Communi- 
cation between one lake and the other, and between 
the cities, and the other towns round about, is by 
means of canoes, with no need of going by land. 
The large salt lake rises and falls in its tides like the 
sea; its waters, w^henev^er it rises, falling into the 
fresh-water lake as rapidly as though it were a great 
river; and when it ebbs, the fresh water then runs into 
the salt lake. 

This great city of Temixtitan is built on the salt lake, 
and from the mainland to the city is a distance of two 
leagues, from any side from which you enter. It has 
four approaches by means of artificial causeways, two 
cav^alry lances in width. The city is as large as Seville 
or Cordoba. Its streets (I speak of the principal ones) 
are very broad and straight, some of these, and all the 
others, are one half land, and the other half water on 
which they go about in canoes. All the streets haev 
openings at regular intervals, to let the water flow frmo 
one to the other, and at all of these openings, some of 

» The lakes of Chalco and Texcoco, the first being of fresh, and the 
second, of salt water. 

Second Letter 257 

which are very broad, there are bridges, very large, strong, 
and well constructed, so that, over many, ten horsemen 
can ride abreast. Perceiving that, if the inhabitants 
wished to practise any treachery against us, they had 
plenty of opportunity, because the said city being built 
as I have described, they might, by raising the bridges 
at the exits and entrances, starve us without our being 
able to reach land, as soon as I entered the city, 
I made great haste to build four brigantines, which 
I had completed in a short time, capable whenever we 
might wish, of taking three hundred men and the horses 
to land. 

The city has many squares where markets are held 
and trading is carried on. There is one square, twice 
as large as that of Salamanca, all sur- xhe Great 
rounded by arcades, where there are daily Market- 
more than sixty thousand souls, buying and P^^<^^ 
selling, and where are found all the kinds of merchan- 
dise produced in these countries, including food pro- 
ducts, jewels of gold and silver, lead, brass, copper, 
zinc, stone, bones, shells, and feathers. Stones are sold, 
hewn and unhewn, adobe bricks, wood, both in the 
rough and manufactured in various ways. There is a 
street for game, where they sell every sort of bird, such 
as chickens, partridges, quails, wild ducks, fly-catchers, 
widgeons, turtle-doves, pigeons, reed-birds, parrots, owls, 
eaglets, owlets, falcons, sparrow-hawks and kestrels, 
and they sell the skins of some of these birds of prey 
with their feathers, heads, beaks, and claws. They 
sell rabbits, hares, and small dogs which they castrate, 
and raise for the purpose of eating. 

There is a street set apart for the sale of herbs, where 
can be found every sort of root and medical herb which 
grows in the country. There are houses like apothecary 
shops, where prepared medicines are sold, as well as 
liquids, ointments, and plasters. There are places like 

VOL. I.— 17 

258 Letters of Cortes 

our barber's shops, where they wash and shave their 
heads. There are houses where they supply food and 
drink for payment. There are men, such as in Castile 
are called porters, who carry burdens. There is much 
wood, charcoal, braziers made of earthenware, and mats 
of divers kinds for beds, and others, very thin, used as 
cushions, and for carpeting halls, and bed-rooms. There 
are all sorts of vegetables, and especially onions, leeks, 
garlic, borage, nasturtium, water-cresses, sorrel, thistles, 
and artichokes. There are many kinds of fruits, amongst 
others cherries, and prunes, like the Spanish ones. They 
sell bees-honey and wax, and honey made of corn stalks, 
which is as sweet and syrup-like as that of sugar, also 
honey of a plant called maguey,^ which is better than 
most; from these same plants they make sugar and 
wine, which they also sell. 

They also sell skeins of different kinds of spun cotton, 
in all colours, so that it seems quite like one of the silk 
markets of Granada, although it is on a greater scale; 
also as many different colours for painters as can be found 
in Spain and of as excellent hues. They sell deer skins 
with all the hair tanned on them, and of different colours ; 
much earthenware, exceedingly good, many sorts of 
pots, large and small, pitchers, large tiles, an infinite 
variety of vases, all of very singular clay, and most of 
them glazed and painted. They sell maize, both in the 
grain and made into bread, which is very superior in its 
quality to that of the other islands and mainland; pies 
of birds, and fish, also much fish, fresh, salted, cooked, 

> The whitish, slippery, fermented liquor called pulque is ex- 
tracted from the maguey and is still the popular drink in Mexico; 
as it must be drunk fresh, special pulque trains daily carry supplies 
to towns along the railway lines. Flavoured with pineapple, straw- 
berry, and other fresh fruit juices, and well iced, it is a very good drink, 
wholesome, and only intoxicating if drunk immoderately. The manu- 
facture and sale of the fiery spirit, mescal, also drawn from the maguey, 
are under careful restrictions and it is as destructive as absinthe. 

Second Letter 259 

and raw; eggs of hens, and geese, and other birds in great 
quantity, and cakes made of eggs. 

Finally, besides those things I have mentioned, they 
sell in the city markets ev^erything else which is found 
in the whole country and which, on account of the pro- 
fusion and number, do not occur to my memory, 
and which also I do not tell of, because I do not know 
their names. 

Each kind of merchandise is sold in its respective 
street, and they do not mix their kinds of merchandise 
of any species ; thus they preserve perfect order. Every- 
thing is sold by a kind of measure, and, until now, we 
have not seen anything sold by weight. 

There is in this square a very large building, like a 
Court of Justice, where there are always ten or twelve 
persons, sitting as judges, and delivering their decisions 
upon all cases which arise in the markets. There are 
other persons in the same square who go about continually 
among the people, observing what is sold, and the meas- 
ures used in selling, and they have been seen to break 
some which were false. 

This great city contains many mosques, or houses 
for idols, very beautiful edifices situated in the different 
precincts of it; in the principal ones of The Aztec 
which are the religious orders of their sect. Priests 
for whom, besides the houses in which they keep 
their idols, there are very good habitations pro- 
vided. All these priests dress in black, and never 
cut or comb their hair from the time they enter 
the religious order until they leave it; and the sons 
of all the principal families, both of chiefs as well as 
noble citizens, are in these religious orders and habits 
from the age of seven or eight years till they are taken 
away for the purpose of marriage. This happens more 
frequently with the first-bom, who inherit the property, 
than with the others. They have no access to women. 

26o Letters of Cortes 

nor are any allowed to enter the religious houses; they 
abstain from eating certain dishes, and more so at certain 
times of the year than at others. 

Amongst these mosques, there is one principal one, and 
no human tongue is able to describe its greatness and 
details, because it is so large that within its circuit, which 
is surrounded by a high wall, a \illage of five hundred 
houses could easily be built. Within, and all around it, 
are very handsome buildings, in which there are large 
rooms and galleries, where the religious who live there 
are lodged. There are as many as forty very high and 
well-built towers, the largest having fifty steps to reach 
the top ; the principal one is higher than the tower of the 
chief church in Seville. ^ They are so well built, both 
in their masonry, and their wood work, that they could not 
be better made nor constructed anywhere; for all the 
masonry inside the chapels, where they keep their idols, 
is carved with figures, and the wood work is all wrought 
with designs of monsters, and other shapes. All these 
towers are places of burial for the chiefs, and each one 
of their chapels is dedicated to the idol to which they 
have a particular devotion. Within this great mosque, 
there are three halls wherein stand the principal idols 
of mar\'ellous grandeur in size, and much decorated with 
carved figures, both of stone and wood; and within these 
halls there are other chapels, entered by very small doors, 
and which have no Hght, and nobody but the religious 
are admitted to them. Within these are the images and 
figures of the idols, although, as I have said, there are 
many outside. 

The principal idols in w^hich they have the most 
faith and belief I overturned from their seats, and rolled 
CQjtgg down the stairs, and I had those chapels, 
Overthrows where they kept them, cleansed, for they were 
the Idols full of blood from the sacrifices; and 

> See Appendix V. , close of Letter. 

Second Letter 261 

I set up images of Our Lady, and other Saints in 
them, which grieved Montezuma, and the natives 
not a little. At first they told me not to do it, for, if it 
became known throughout the town, the people would 
rise against me, as they believed that these idols gave 
them all their temporal goods, and, in allowing them to 
be ill-treated, they would be angered, and give nothing, 
and would take away all the fruits of the soil, and cause 
the people to die of want. I made them understand by 
the interpreters how deceived they were in putting their 
hope in idols, made of unclean things by their own hands, 
and I told them that they should know there was but one 
God, the Universal Lord of all, who had created the 
heavens, and earth, and all things else, and them, and us, 
who was without beginning, and immortal ; that they should 
adore, and believe in Him, and not in any creature, or 
thing. I told them all I knew of these matters, so as 
to win them from their idolatries, and bring them to a 
knowledge of God, Our Lord; and all of them, especially 
Montezuma, answered that they had already told me they 
were not natives of this country, and that it was a long 
time since their forefathers had come to it, therefore 
they might err in some points of their belief, as it was so 
long since they left their native land, whilst I, who had 
recently arrived, should know better than they what 
they should believe, and hold; and if I would tell them, 
and explain to them, they would do what I told them, 
as being for the best. Montezuma and many chiefs of 
the city remained with me until the idols were taken 
away and the chapels cleansed, and the images put up, 
and they all wore happy faces. I forbade them to sacri- 
fice human beings to the idols, as they were accustomed 
to do, for besides its being very hateful to God, Your 
Majesty had also prohibited it by your laws, and com- 
manded that those who killed should be put to death. 
Henceforth they aboHshed it, and, in all the time I 

262 Letters of Cortes 

remained in the city, never again were they seen to 
sacrifice any human creature. 

The figures of the idols, in which those people believe, 
exceed in size the body of a large man. They are made 
of a mass of all the seeds and vegetables which they eat, 
ground up and mixed wdth one another, and kneaded 
with the hearts' blood of human beings, whose breasts 
are opened when alive, the hearts being removed, and, 
with the blood which comes out, is kneaded the flour, 
making the quantity necessary to construct a great 
statue. When these are finished the priests offer them 
more hearts, which have likewise been sacrificed, and 
besmear the faces with the blood. The idols are dedicated 
to different things, as was the custom of the heathen who 
anciently honoured their gods. Thus, to obtain favours 
in war these people have one idol, for harvests another, 
and for everything in which they desire any good, they 
have idols whom they honour and serve. 

There are many large and handsome houses in this 
city, and the reason for this is that all the lords of the 
country, vassals of Montezuma, inhabit their houses in 
the city a certain part of the year; moreover there are 
many rich citizens, who likewise have very good houses. 
Besides having very good and large dwelling places, all 
these people have very beautiful flower gardens of divers 
kinds, as well in the upper, as in the lower dwellings. 

Along one of the causeways which lead to the 
city, there are two conduits of masonry each two 
The paces broad, and five feet deep, ^ through one 

Aqueducts of which a volume of very good fresh water, 
the bulk of a man's body, flows into the heart of 
the city, from which all supply themselves, and drink. 
The other which is empty brings the water, when 
they w^ish to clean the first conduit, for, while one 
is being cleaned, the water flows through the other. 

> An estado was a man's height, or about five and one-half feet. 

Second Letter 263 

Conduits as large round as an ox's body bring the fresh 
water across the bridges, thus avoiding the channels by 
which the salt-water flows, and in this manner the whole 
city is supplied, and everybody has water to drink. 
Canoes peddle the water through all the streets, and the 
way they take it from the conduits is this : the canoes stop 
under the bridges where the conduits cross, where men 
are stationed on the top who are paid to fill them. At 
the different entrances to the city, and wherever the 
canoes are unloaded, which is where the greatest quan- 
tity of provisions enter the city, there are guards, in huts 
to collect a cerium quid of everything that comes in. I 
do not know whether this goes to the sovereign, or to 
the city, because up till now I have not been able to 
ascertain, but I believe it is for the sovereign, for, in 
other market places of other provinces, that contribution 
has been seen to be paid to the ruler. There are to be 
found daily in the markets and public places of the city 
many workmen, and masters of all trades, waiting to be 

The people of this city had better manners, and more 
luxury in their dressing and service, than those of other 
provinces and cities, for the reason that the sovereign, 
Montezuma, always resided there, and all the nobles, his 
vassals, frequented the city, so better manners, and 
more ceremony prevailed. But to avoid being prolix 
in describing the things of the city (though I would fain 
continue), I will not say more than that, in the service 
and manners of its people, their fashion of living was al- 
most the same as in Spain, with just as much harmony and 
order ; and considering that these people were barbarous, 
so cut off from the knowledge of God, and other civilised 
peoples, it is admirable to see to what they attained 
in every respect. As far as the service surrounding 
Montezimia is concerned, and the admirable attributes 
of his greatness and state, there is so much to write that 

264 Letters of Cortes 

I assure Your Highness I do not know where to begin, 
so as to finish what I would say of any part respecting it. 
For, as I have already said, what greater grandeur can 
there be, than that a barbarian monarch, like him, should 
have imitations in gold, silver, stones, and feather-work, 
of all the things existing under heaven in his dominion? — 
gold, and silver, things, so like to nature, that there is 
not a silversmith in the world who could do it better; 
and, respecting the stones, there is no imagination which 
can divine the instruments with which they were so 
perfectly executed; and respecting the feather-work, 
neither in wax, nor in embroidery, could nature be so 
marvellously imitated. 

So far, the extent of Montezuma's kingdom is not 
known, but everyw^here within two hundred leagues 
Extent of °^ ^^^^ ^^^ ^^^ Other side of this capital, 
the Aztec wherever he sent, his messengers were not 
Sovereignty disregarded, ^ although there were some pro- 
vinces in the midst of these countries with which he 
was at war. From what has been learned, and from 
what I understand from him, I judge that his territories 
were as large as Spain; for he sent messengers from 
here to Puntunchan, at sixty leagues distance, beyond 
the river of Grijalba, ordering the natives of a city, called 
Cumatan,2 to give themselves as vassals to Your Ma- 
jesty; and that is a distance of two hundred and thirty 
leagues from the great city. This I know for I have made 
the Spaniards go a distance of more than a hundred 
and fifty in that direction. 

All the other lords of this country and province, es- 
pecially those of the neighboui-hood, resided as I have 
already said, a greater part of the year in the capital, 

* Humboldt estimates its extension at 20,000 square leagues, 
and as comprising in his time, the intendencies of Vera Cruz, Mexico, 
Oaxaca, and Valladolid. 

2 Given in Archbishop Lorenzana's edition as Jumathlan, a town 
between the provinces of Oaxaca and Chiapa. 

Second Letter 265 

and all, or at least most of them, had their first-born sons 
in the service of Montezuma. There were fortified places 
in the dominions of these lords, and Montezuma sent 
his own people amongst them as governors, and collectors 
of the taxes and rents which he received from each pro- 
vince. These men kept an account of what each province 
was obHged to give, by means of characters and figures, 
written on the paper they make, showing what each 
province was obliged to pay according to the quality of 
its land. In this manner, produce from all the said 
provinces came into his possession. 

He was so feared by the present, as well as the absent, 
that there was never prince in the world more so. He 
had many pleasure houses, within and without the city, 
each as well constructed, to serve for its particular kind 
of pastime, as could be described or desired for so great 
a lord. Within the city, he had residences such and so 
marvellous that it seems to me almost impossible to 
speak of their excellence and grandeur. So I Hmit myself 
to saying that there is nothing comparable with them in 

He had a house, a little inferior to this one, where 
there was a beautiful garden, with arbors overhanging 
it, of which the marbles and tiles were of Montezu- 
jasper, beautifully worked. In this house there ma's 

were apartments for two great princes, and all Palaces 
their servants. It had ten pools of w^ater, in which 
were kept all the many and divers breeds of water- 
fowl found in these parts, all domesticated; for the 
sea-birds, too, there were pools of salt w^ater, and, 
for those of the rivers and lakes, there was fresh water, 
which for the sake of cleanliness, they renewed at certain 
times by means of pipes. To each kind of bird they 
gave the food which suited its habits in its free state, so 
that to those which ate fish they gave it ; and, likewise, 
worms, maize, and smaller seeds were supplied as required 

266 Letters of Cortes 

by the different birds. I assure Your Highness that all 
those birds which ate only fish received each day two 
hundred and fifty pounds, caught in the salt lakes. Three 
hundred men had the charge of these birds, for their sole 
employment. There were others who were occupied only 
in curing the birds which were ailing. Over each pool 
for these birds, there were beautifully decorated galleries, 
and corridors, where Montezuma came to amuse himself 
by watching them. There was an apartment in this house 
in which were men, women, and children, white of face, 
body, hair, and eyelashes from the day of their birth. 
There was another very beautiful house, with a large 
court, paved with flags, in the pattern of a chess board. 

There were also houses about nine feet in height, and 
about six paces square ; one half of each was covered wath a 
roofing of square tiles, and the other half, which was open, 
had a stout lattice of wood. Each of these houses con- 
tained a bird of prey, representing all the sorts known in 
Spain, from the kestrel to the eagle, besides many other 
kinds, which had never been seen there; and there were 
great numbers of each of these kinds. Across the tops 
of these houses there was a perch, and another one out 
beyond the lattice, so that the birds might use the one at 
night and when it was raining, and the other to sun them- 
selves, and take the air. All these birds were fed daily on 
chickens, with no other food. There were certain large 
rooms in this palace, fitted with great cages, very well 
constructed, and joined with heavy timbers, in all or 
most of which were kept lions, tigers, foxes, and every 
kind of cat in considerable numbers. These were also 
fed on chickens. Three hundred other men had charge 
of these animals and birds. 

There was another house where many monstrous men 
and women lived, amongst whom there were dwarfs, 
hunchbacks, and deformed; and each manner of monster 
had a room apart, and they also had persons to take 

Second Letter 267 

charge of them. I do not mention the other diverting 
things Montezuma had in this city, because they were so 
many, and so various. 

His service was organised as follows: at dawn every 
day, six hundred lords, and men of rank, came to 
his palace. Some of these sat down, and Etiquette 
others walked about in the halls and corridors of Monte- 
of the palace, talking and passing the time, zuma's 
but without entering the room where he was; ^^ 

the servants and retainers who accompanied them filled 
two or three great courts, and the street, which was very 
large. They remained in attendance until night. When 
they served food to Montezuma, they likewise served all 
those lords with like profusion, and their servants and fol- 
lowers also received their rations. The larder and the wine 
cellar were open daily to all who wished to eat or drink. 

The way they served the meals is this: three or four 
hundred youths carried in countless dishes, for, every 
time he wished to dine or sup, they brought him all the 
different dishes, not only meats, but also fish, and fruits, 
and herbs, to be fotmd in the land; and as the climate 
is cold they brought, under each plate and dish, a brazier 
of coals, so that the food should not get cold. They placed 
all the dishes together in a great room where he dined, 
which was almost filled ; its floors were all very well covered 
and very clean, and he sat on a small cushion of leather, 
beautifully made. Whilst he was eating, there were five or 
six elder lords standing a short distance from him, to whom 
he offered from the dishes he was eating. One of the serv- 
ants waited to bring and remove the dishes for him, which 
were passed by others, who stood further off as the service 
required. At the beginning and end of each meal, they 
always brought him water for his hands, and the towel, 
once used, he never used again; nor were the plates and 
service in which a dish was served ever brought again; 
and it was the same with the braziers. 

268 Letters of Cortes 

He dressed himself four times every day, in four different 
kinds of clothing, all new, and never would he be dressed 
with the same again. All the lords who entered his palace 
came barefooted, and, when those whom he had sum- 
moned appeared before him, it was with their heads bent, 
and their eyes on the ground, in humble posture; and, 
when they spoke to him, they did not look him in the 
face, because of respect and reverence. I know they 
did this out of respect, for certain lords reproved the 
Spaniards, saying, that when these latter spoke to me, 
they would behave with a lofty demeanour, looking 
me in the face, which seemed to them disrespectful and 
shameless. When Montezuma went out, which happened 
rarely, all those who accompanied him and those whom he 
met in the street, turned their faces aside, and in no wise 
looked at him, and all the rest prostrated themselves until 
he had passed. One of the lords, who carried three long 
thin rods, always went before him, and I believe this was 
done to give notice of his approach. When he descended 
from his litter, he took one of those rods in his hand, 
and carried it as far as he went. The ceremonies which 
this sovereign used in his service were so many, and of such 
different kinds, that more space than I have at present 
would be required to relate them, and even a better 
memory to retain them; for I believe none of the Sultans, 
or any infidel sovereign of whom we have had information 
until now, has ever had such ceremonial in his court. 

I have been occupied in this capital in what seemed 
to conduce to the service of Your Sacred Majesty, and in 
pacifying and winning over to it many provinces, thickly 
peopled countries, very great cities, towns, and forts; 
and in discovering mines, and learning and inquiring 
into many of the secrets of Montezuma's dominions, as 
well as of others which border on them, of which he 
had information. These are so many and so marvellous, 
that they are almost incredible. In this, I have been 

Second Letter 269 

assisted, with as much good will and satisfaction on the 
part of Montezuma and the natives, as if they, ab initio, 
had recognised Your Sacred Majesty as their king and 
rightful sovereign; and with no less good will have they 
done all I commanded them in your royal name. In all 
these things mentioned, and in others no less useful to 
the service of Your Highness, I spent from the eighth 
of November, 15 19, to the beginning of May this present 

While all was quiet and tranquil in this city, and 
many Spaniards were distributed through divers parts, 
pacifying the people in the country, I greatly jjg^g ^f ^^le 
desired that ships might arrive, with the Arrival of 
answer to the accoimt I had sent to Your Narvaez 
Majesty, so that I might forward what I now send, 
together with all the gold and jewels I had collected 
for Your Highness. At that time there came certain 
natives, vassals of Montezuma, who live on the coast, 
telling me that, near the mountain chain of San Martin, 
which is on the said coast, before reaching the port 
and bay of San Juan, eighteen ships had arrived ; and that 
they did not know whose they were, because, as soon 
as they espied them on the sea, they came to let me know. 
Following the said Indians, there came also a native of 
the island of Fernandina, who brought me a letter from 
a Spaniard, whom I had stationed on the coast. This I 
had done that he might give information about me, and 
about that town near the port, to any ships that might 
arrive, so that they might not be lost. In this letter he 
said that, "on such a day, a single ship had arrived off 
the harbour of San Juan," and that he had examined 
all the coast as far as the eye could reach, but had dis- 
covered no other, and therefore believed it to be the 
ship I had sent to Your Majesty, since it was time for 
this to return. In order to satisfy himself more fully, 
he said that he would stay, waiting for the arrival of 

270 Letters of Cortes 

the said ship in port, so as to get information which he 
would immediately bring me. 

Having read this letter, I despatched two Spaniards one 
by one road, and the other by another, so that they might 
miss no messenger coming from the ship. I directed them 
to go to the said port, and ascertain how many ships 
had arrived, from whence they came, and what they 
brought, and to return as quickly as possible to tell me, 
I likewise sent another to the city of Vera Cruz, to an- 
nounce what I had learned about those ships, so that they 
might get information there, and let me know; and another 
went to the Captain (whom I had sent with a hundred 
and fifty men, to form a settlement at the port of Quacu- 
calco), to whom I wrote, that, as I had learned that 
certain ships had arrived at the port, he should stop 
wherever that messenger might meet him, and not pro- 
ceed any further, until I should write to him again. 
It afterwards appeared, however, that he already 
knew of the arrival of the ships when he received my 

Fifteen days elapsed after the departure of the messen- 
gers, and as I had no news or answers from them, I was 
not a little alarmed. When these fifteen days had passed, 
other Indians, also vassals of Montezuma, arrived, from 
whom I learned that the said ships had already anchored 
in the port of San Juan, and the people had disembarked ; 
that they had brought about eighty horses, eight hundred 
men, and ten or twelve pieces of artillery. All of this 
report was pictured on paper of the country, to be shown 
to Montezuma. The messengers also told me, that the 
Spaniard I had stationed on the coast, and the other 
messengers I had sent, were with the said people, and 
had told these Indians that the captain of those people 
would not allow^ them to return, and for them to tell me 
this. Having heard this, I determined to send a religious, 
whom I had brought in my company, bearing a letter of 

Second Letter 271 

mine, and another from the alcalde and the municipal 
officers of the city of Vera Cruz who were with me, ad- 
dressed to the captain and people who had arrived at that 
port. In these letters we informed him very fully of all 
that had happened to me in this country; that I held 
many cities and ports conquered and pacified, subject 
to the royal service of Your Majesty ; that I had taken the 
principal lord of all these regions prisoner, and that I was 
in the capital. We wrote all about its character, and the 
gold and jewels I had obtained for Your Highness, and 
how I had given an account to Your Majesty of the 
country. I asked them to let me know who they were, 
and if they were rightful subjects of the kingdom and 
lordships of Your Highness, to write to me whether they 
had come to this country by a royal mandate to settle 
permanently, or intended to advance or return; adding 
that, if they needed anything, I would have them pro- 
vided with everything possible. I said also that, if they 
came from any place outside the dominions and kingdoms 
of Your Highness, to likewise let me know, for if they 
needed anything I would also supply it, if I could. If 
they refused to inform me, I required them on the part 
of Your Majesty to leave your countries, and not to land 
in them, with the threat that, if they persisted, I would 
march against them with all the force I had, both Span- 
iards and natives, and would take them, and kill them as 
foreign invaders of the kingdoms and dominions of my 
king and sovereign. 

Within five or six days after the religious had gone 
with the despatch, twenty Spaniards, whom I had 
left in the city of Vera Cruz, arrived in the Designs of 
city of Temixtitan, and brought me a cleric Panfilo de 
and two other laymen whom they had taken Narvaez 
in the said city. From them I learned, that the 
armada and people in the port belonged to Diego 
Velasquez, and had come by his orders, under a certain 

2-] 2 Letters of Cortes 

Panfilo dc Narvaoz, ' a householder of the island of 
Fernandina, as their captain; that they brought eighty 
horses, many pieces of artillery, and eight hundred soldiers, 
among which latter were eighty musketeers, and a hundred 
and twenty bowmen; that Narvaez came with a com- 
mission as Captain-General, and Lieutenant-Governor 
of all these parts, by appointment of Diego Velasquez, 
with faculties from Your Majesty for all this; that the 
messengers I had sent, and the man I had stationed on 
the coast were with Panfilo de Narvaez, who would not 
allow them to return, and that he had information himself 
from them about my founding that town twelve leagues 
from the said port, and of the people who were in it, as 
well as about the people I had sent to Quacucalco, thirty 
leagues from the port, in a province called Tuchitepeque, 
I learned also that Narvaez knew of everything I had 
done in the country in the service of Your Highness; 
about the cities and towns I had pacified and about the 
great city of Temixtitan; about the gold and jewels we 
had obtained in the country, and all else that had hap- 
pened to me. Narvaez had sent these men to Vera Cruz, 
to try to win over the inhabitants to his design that they 
should rebel against me. They brought me more than a 
hundred letters which Nar\^aez and his companions sent 
to people in Vera Cruz, telling them to credit what the 
cleric and the others with him w^ould say in his name, 
promising them in the name of Diego Velasquez, that, 
if they would do so, they should be rewarded, but that 

> Panfilo de Narvaez, a native of Valladolid, first settled in 
Jamaica, afterwards taking part in the conquest of Cuba, as captain 
of thirty bowmen, when he won the friendship of Diego Velasquez, 
who made him one of his chief captains. Las Casas describes him as 
well behaved, and brave but imprudent, but Bemal Diaz's opinion 
of him was less pleasing as he calls him vain, presumptuous, foolish, 
and proud, but admits his bravery. He was forty years old when he 
came to Mexico to arrest Cortes and send him back to Cuba. He 
brought with him the curse of small-pox, which was thus introduced 
into Mexico by a negro of his crew. 

Second Letter 273 

those who acted to the contrary would be very severely 
treated. Many other things contained in the said letters 
were reported by the cleric and those who came with 

Almost simultaneously, there arrived one of the Span- 
iards who had gone to Quacucalco, bringing letters from 
his captain, one Velasquez de Leon, who informed me that 
the expedition in the port was under Panfilo de Narvaez, 
who came in the name of Diego Velasquez. This 
Leon forwarded me a letter which Narvaez had sent him 
by an Indian for he was a relative of Diego Velasquez, 
and brother-in-law of Narvaez), telling him how he had 
learned from my messengers that Leon was there with 
those people, and bidding him come back immediately with 
them, because, by so acting, he would fulfil his obliga- 
tions towards his relative; that he believed I held him 
by force, and other similar things which Narvaez wrote 
to him. The captain being more devoted to Your Ma- 
jesty's service, not only declined to accept what Narvaez 
told him in his letter, but, after having sent the letter 
to me, immediately left to join me with all his forces. 
Afterwards I informed myself from that cleric, and the 
two who accompanied him, respecting many things con- 
cerning the intentions of Diego Velasquez and Narvaez; 
how they had despatched that armada and force against 
me, because, instead of to Diego Velasquez, I had sent to 
Your Majesty the description of this country, and the pre- 
sents ; and how they came with evil designs to kill me, and 
many of my company whom they had already designated. 
I ascertained likewise that the licentiate Figueroa, the 
judge residing in the island of Hispaniola, and Your 
Highness's judges and officials there, when they learned 
that Diego Velasquez was preparing this armada, and his 
intention in so doing, had perceived the hanii and injury 
which would result to Your Majesty by their coming, 
and had sent one of the said judges, the licentiate, Lucas 

VOL. I— 18. 

2 74 Letters of Cortes 

Vasquez de Ayllon, ^ with powers to require and order 
Diego Velasquez not to despatch the armada. Upon his 
arrival, he found Diego Velasquez and all those armed 
people at the point of the island of Fernandina, ready to 
sail, and he required them, and those composing the 
aiTnada, not to depart, because Your Highness would be 
badly sen-ed, and he threatened them with many penalties, 
notwithstanding which, and in spite of all the licentiate 
required and ordered, Velasquez still sent the armada. 
The licentiate, Ayllon, had come with them thinking 
to prevent the harm which would follow from the arrival 
of it, for it was notorious to him, and to everybody, that 
the armada came with evil intentions. 

I sent this cleric to Narvaez with a letter of mine, in 
which I told him I had learned from the cleric, and those 
who came with him, that he was captain of the armada, 

> The audiencia of San Domingo, foreseeing the scandal which 
was inevitable from such an expedition against Cortes, sent Lucas 
Vasquez de Ayllon to Cuba with full powers to stop the preparations, 
and prohibit the sailing. Ayllon followed Diego Velasquez to the port 
of Trinidad where he had gone, and there learned that Narvaez was 
at Xagua, some fourteen leagues distant, ready to join the others of 
the fleet who were at Guaniguanico. He also discovered that most 
of the able-bodied men in the colony had enlisted, and that the island 
would be left with few defenders in case of trouble with the natives; 
he went therefore to Xagua, and notified Narvaez not to sail, but to 
go to Guaniguanico, where he intended to dissuade the governor from 
the undertaking. Though Velasquez appeared at first to yield, he 
ended by repudiating the authority of the audiencia, though he con- 
sented to give pacific instructions to Narvaez as to his manner of dealing 
with Cortes. Ayllon decided, at the last moment, to go himself with 
the armada, and prevent trouble between the rival commanders if 
possible. Narvaez however was heedless of the notary's protests at 
San Juan de XJlua, and finally rid himself of his importunities by send- 
ing him back to Cuba on one ship, and his secretary and the alguacil 
on another. Thus, three months after his departure on his mission, 
Ayllon landed at San Nicolas in San Domingo, making his way as best he 
could on foot across the island to report his ill success to the audiencia. 
This flouting of the audiencia cost Diego Velasquez any trivmiph he 
might otherwise have hoped to gain over Cortes, and Narvaez's sum- 
mary violence towards a representative of the government bears out 
Bemal Diaz's estimate of his character. 

Second Letter 275 

and that I was glad it was he, as I had thought 
otherwise seeing that my messengers had not returned. 
I said, however, that, as he knew I was in this Cortes 
country in Your Highness's service, I mar- Writes to 
veiled that he did not write to me, or send Narvaez 
me some messenger announcing his arrival, for he knew 
that I would be rejoiced at it, not only because 
of our old friendship, but also because he had come 
to serve Your Highness, which was what I most desired. 
Instead of which, I said, he had sent corruptors and 
letters of seduction to those under me in Your Majesty's 
service, inciting them to rebel against me, and join him, 
as if we were infidels the one, and Christians the other, 
vassals of Your Highness the one, and traitors the other. 
I asked him as a favour that from hence forward he 
would not use these means with me, but first let me know 
the cause of his coming. I said I had been told that he 
called himself Captain-General, and Lieutenant-Governor 
for Diego Velasquez, and that he had so proclaimed him- 
self by the public crier, publishing it in the country, 
and had named alcaldes and municipal officers, and had 
executed justice, all of which was against the good ser- 
vice of Your Highness, and against all your laws; that 
this was so because this country belonging to Your 
Majesty, and being peopled by 3^our vassals, and having 
tribunals and municipal bodies in it, he should not ap- 
propriate to himself the said offices without first having 
received them, inasmuch as to exercise them he should 
bring provisions from Your Majesty; that, if he had 
brought any such, I asked as a favour, and required him 
to present them to me, and to the municipal authorities 
of Vera Cruz, as they would be obeyed by those author- 
ities, and by me, as letters and provisions of our King 
and rightful Sovereign, and complied with as far as it 
would profit to the service of Your Majesty; and that I 
was in that city, where I held the monarch prisoner, and 

276 Letters of Cortes 

had a great sum of gold and valuables, belonging not 
only to Your Highness, but also to my company and 
myself, which I did not dare to leave, since I feared that, 
if I left the city, the people might rebel, and such a quan- 
tity of gold and jewels, and such a city, would be lost 
which meant the loss of the whole country. I likewise 
gave a letter to the said cleric for the licentiate Ayllon, 
who, as I afterwards learned, had been sent away, with 
two ships as a prisoner, by Narvaez before the cleric 

On the day the cleric left, I received a messenger from 
the citizens of Vera Cruz, who informed me, that all the 
natives had risen in favour of Narvaez, especially those 
of the city of Cempoal and their party, and that none 
would come to work in the said town and port, nor do 
anything else, because they said that Narvaez had told 
them that I was a traitor, and that he had come to take 
me and all my company prisoners, and to make us leave 
the country. As Narvaez's people were many, and mine 
few, and he had brought many horses, and much artillery, 
and I had little, they wished to be on the winning side. 
The messengers informed me also that they had learned 
from the Indians, that Narvaez would occupy the city 
of Cempoal, knowing how near it was to their city, and 
they believed from what they were informed of the said 
Narvaez's bad intentions towards all, that he w^ould 
from that place attack them, aided by the Cempoalans. 
They let me know that they were leaving the town, rather 
than fight with them, and to avoid scandal they would 
go up the mountain to the house of a chief, vassal of 
Your Highness, and our friend, where they would remain 
until I sent them directions what to do. 

As I saw the great mischief which was spreading, and 
that the country was rebelling on account of Narvaez, 
it appeared to me that, by going to him myself, all might 
be appeased, because the Indians would not dare to 

Second Letter 277 

rebel on seeing me, and also because I thought to make 

some sort of arrangement with Narvaez for stopping the 

great evil at the outset. I thereupon started the same 

day, leaving the fort well provided with maize and water, 

and a garrison of five hundred men, with some cannon. 

Taking the others (some seventy men), I pursued my 

road, accompanied b}^ some of Montezuma's principal 


Before I left, I made some explanation telling him " to 

look to the fact that he was a vassal of Your Highness, and 

that now he would receive the favours from ^ ^ 


Your Majesty for the services which he had Leaves 
rendered to you; that I entrusted to him Mexico 
those Spaniards, who would take care of all the *° ^®®* 
gold and valuables which he had given me, or 
ordered me to give Your Highness; that I was longing 
to see the people who had arrived, and to learn who they 
were, as I did not yet know, but that I believed they were 
bad people and not vassals of Your Highness. He prom- 
ised to provide those left behind with everything necessary 
and to take great care of all I left there, belonging to Your 
Majesty, and that his people w^ho went with me would 
guide me by a road without quitting his country, and 
would provide me with everything I needed. He prayed 
me also, that, if these were bad people, to let him know, 
and he would immediately raise many warriors to attack 
them, and drive them out of the country. I thanked 
him for all this, and assured him that Your Majesty 
would order many favours to be shown him, and I gave 
many jewels and stuffs to him, to his son, and to many 
other lords who were with him at the time. 

In the city, called Churultecal, I met, returning with 
all his people, Juan Velasquez, the captain, whom, as I 
have said, I had sent to Quacucalco. Separating those 
who were indisposed, whom I sent to the city, I pursued 
my road with him and the others. Fifteen leagues 

278 Letters of Cortes 

beyond the city of Churultccal, I encountered that re- 
ligious father [Fray Olmedo] of my company, whom I 
had sent to the port to learn what sort of people had come 
in the armada. He brought me a letter from Narvaez, 
in which the latter wrote me that he brought certain 
powers to hold this country for Diego Velasquez, and that 
I should immediately come to him to obey and submit 
to them, and that he had established a town with al- 
caldes and municipal officers. From the same religious, 
I learned that the licentiate Ayllon, as well as his notary 
and alguacil, had been taken, and sent away in two 
ships; that he himself had been approached there by 
parties, to win over some of my company to Narvaez ; and 
how they had boasted before him, and certain Indians 
who accompanied him, of their forces, both of foot 
and cavalry, and had fired the artillery from the ships and 
on land in order to frighten them, saying to the re- 
ligious, "See! how can you defend yourselves against 
us if you don't do as we wish you to do?" He told me 
also that he had seen with Narvaez one of the native 
lords of this country, vassal of the said Montezuma, and 
governor of all his country along the coast ; and he learned 
that he had spoken to Narvaez on the part of Montezuma, 
giving him jewels of gold, and that Narvaez had also 
given him certain trifles; and that Narvaez had sent 
from there certain messengers to IMontezuma, saying, 
that he would deliver him, for he had come to take me 
and all my company, and then leave the country, and 
that he wished no gold, but that, myself, and those who 
were with me, once prisoners, he intended to depart, 
and leave the country and the natives in their full liberty. 
Finally I learned that his intention w^as to possess himself 
of the country by his own authority, without asking 
recognition from anyone; and that if I and those of my 
company refused to accept him as captain, or justice 
in the name of Diego Velasquez, he would come against 

Second Letter 279 

us, and capture us by force, and that for this purpose 
he had confederated with the natives, especially with 
Montezuma, by means of his messengers. 

When I saw how manifest was the harm which would 
result from the aforesaid proceedings against Your Ma- 
jesty, especially as I was told of the great force he had 
brought, and Diego Velasquez's mandate that, as soon 
as he seized us, he should hang me, and others who were 
designated, I did not hesitate to approach nearer to him, 
believing that I might make him understand the great 
disservice which would result to Your Highness, and 
dissuade him from his evil intention and malicious dis- 
position towards us. 

I continued my way, and fifteen leagues before arriving 
at the city of Cempoal, where Nar\^aez was camped, there 
approached me the chaplain sent to me by the citizens 
of Vera Cruz, by whom I had written to Narvaez, and 
the licentiate Ayllon; he was accompanied by another 
cleric, and a certain Andres de Duero, ^ householder of 
the Island of Fernandina, who had also come with Nar- 
vaez. They told me, on the part of Narvaez, in answer 
to my letter, that I might still obey and recognise him as 
my captain, and that I must yield the country to him, 
otherwise I should be punished, as Narvaez brought great 
forces with him, and I had very few, for besides the many 
Spaniards he had brought, most of the natives were in 
his favour; and that, if I would deliver the coimtry to him, 
he would give me all the ships and provisions I desired, 
and would allow me to go away with them, and all those 
who wished to leave w4th me, taking everything I desired 
without any hindrance from him. One of the clerics 
told me that Diego Velasquez had authorised this offer, 
and had given his instructions to Narvaez and the two 
clerics jointly, so that, in this matter, they could make 
all the concessions I wished. I answered, that I did not 

> A secretary of Diego Velasquez. 

2 8o Letters of Cortes 

perceive any warrants of Your Highness, directing me 
to deliver the country to them, and that if Narvaez 
brought any he should present them before me and the 
Municipal Council of Vera Cruz, according to Spanish 
law and custom, when I would be ready to obey and 
comply with them; but that, until then, I would not do 
as he said for any interest or concession, for I, and those 
who were with me, would rather die in defence of the 
country, which we had won and held pacified and sure 
for Your I\Iajesty, than turn traitors, or forfeit our loyalty 
to our king. They advanced many other propositions 
to win me over to their project, but none would I accept 
without having seen the warrants of Your Highness 
authorising me so to do ; and these they could not produce 

In conclusion, these clerics, Andres de Duero, and my- 
self, agreed that Narvaez and m3^self, with as many others, 
Negotia- should meet with perfect surety on both sides, 
tions with when he would satisfy me of the warrants if he 
Narvaez ^^^^^ brought any, and I would give my answer. 
I, on my part, sent him a safe conduct, signed, and he also 
sent me another, signed with his name, which as it seemed 
to me he had no thought of observing ; for he had planned 
that, during the visit, some way or other should be found 
to kill me suddenl}^, and two of the ten w^ho were to come 
with him had been designated to do this, while the rest 
were to fight with my attendants. They said, as a 
reason for this, that, once I was dead, their business could 
be finished ; and in truth it would have been, if God, who 
in such cases intervenes, had not succoured me by a certain 
warning, which one of those concerned in the treachery 
had sent me together with their safe conduct. 

Knowing all this, I wrote a letter to Narvaez, and 
another to the three commissioners, telling them that I 
had discovered their treacherous intention, and would 
not go as had been agreed. I immediately sent them 
certain requisitions and mandates, by which I required 

Second Letter 281 

Narvaez to make known to me any warrants he brought 
from Your Highness, and that, until he had done so, he 
should not, under certain penalties I imposed, call himself 
captain or justice, or meddle with any duties pertaining 
to the said offices. In like manner, by the same man- 
date I commanded all the persons who were with him 
not to regard nor obey him as captain or justice, and 
summoned them, within a certain time designated, to 
appear before me, that I might instruct them what was 
proper to do in Your Highness 's service. I gave notice 
that, if they did otherwise, I should proceed against them 
as perfidious traitors and wicked vassals who had rebelled 
against their king, and sought to usurp his country and 
dominions, to deliver them to persons to whom they did 
not belong, and who had no claim nor right to them; 
and also in the execution of this order, that if they did 
not appear before me, or obey my mandate, I would 
proceed against them, and imprison them according to 
the law, Narvaez's answer was to imprison the notary 
who delivered the mandate, and the persons accompanying 
him, and to take from them certain Indians who accom- 
panied them, who were all detained till another messenger 
arrived whom I sent to inquire after them. Before them 
he made a display of force, and threatened them, and 
also myself, if I did not deliver the country to him. 

Seeing that I could by no means prevent this great 
calamity and evil, and that the natives of the country 
were revolting, and rising day by day, recommending 
myself to God, and disregarding all injury that might 
follow, considering that if I died in the senrice of my 
king, and in the defence and upholding of his countries 
against usurpation, more than sufficient glory would 
cover me and my company, I gave my mandate to Gon- 
zalo de Sandoval, alguacil mayor, to seize the persons of 
Narv^aez, and those who called themselves alcaldes and 
municipal officers. I placed eighty men under his orders, 

282 Letters of Cortes 

to make the arrest, while I, with the remaining hundred 
and seventy (as in all we were two hundred and fifty 
men), followed on foot, without artillery or horses, so as 
to aid him if Narvaez and his companions should resist. 
On the same day, the alguacil mayor and I, with the rest 
of the people, arrived near the city of Cempoal, where 
Narvaez and his people were quartered. He learned of 
our coming, and came out, with eighty horsemen, and five 
hundred foot-soldiers, leaving the rest of his force in his 
quarters, which were in the great mosque of that strongly 
fortified city. Having marched to within almost a league 
of where we were, and not finding us, he believed he had 
been deceived, so he returned to his quarters, holding 
all his people in readiness, and placing two sentinels 
almost a league outside the town. 

As I wished to avoid all scandal, it seemed to me that 
there would be less if I went by night, unperceived if 
Cortes possible, directly to the quarters of Narvaez, 
Defeats which I and my men knew very well, and 
Narvaez there seized him. For, once he was a pris- 
oner, no trouble w-ould arise, for the others wished 
to submit to justice, especially as most of them 
had been forced to come by Diego Velasquez, fear- 
ing that, unless they did, he might take away their 
slaves in the island of Fernandina. Thus it happened, 
on the feast of Pentecost, a little after midnight, I at- 
tacked the quarters. I had encountered the sentinels 
Narv^aez had placed, and my vanguard captured one of 
them, from w^hom I informed myself of their position, 
but the other escaped; and in order that he should not 
arrive before me and give notice of my coming, I hastened 
as much as possible. The sentinel arrived, however, 
almost half an hour before me, and, when I approached, 
Narvaez and all his men were already armed, and had 
saddled their horses, and were well prepared, with two 
hundred men guarding each quarter. We moved so 

Second Letter 283 

quietly, that, when they heard us, and seized arms, I was 
akeady inside the courtyard of his quarters, where all 
the people were gathered. They had taken possession of 
three or four strong towers which were in it, and all the 
other strong positions; and in one of the towers, where 
Narvaez was lodged, he had placed nineteen guns on the 
stairs. We reached the top of the tower so quickly, 
that they had not time to put fire to more than one of 
the pieces, which by God's will did not go ofif, or do us 
any harm. Thus we mounted the tower to the place 
where Narvaez slept, where about fifty men who were 
with him fought with the alguacil mayor and his force; 
and although required many times to yield themselves 
to Your Highness, surrendered only when fire was set to 
the tower. While the alguacil mayor was capturing 
Narvaez, I, with those who had stayed with me, defended 
the entrance of the tower against the rest who sought 
to come to his aid; and I ordered the artillery to be taken, 
and fortified myself with it. Thus, with no more loss 
than two men, who w^re killed by the discharge of a gun, 
aU those we wished to take were made prisoners within 
an hour. After the rest had been disarmed, they prom- 
ised to be obedient to the laws of Your Majesty, declaring 
that till then they had been deceived, as they had been 
told that Nar\^aez brought warrants from Your Highness, 
and that I had risen in rebellion in this country, and was 
a traitor to Your Majesty, together with many other 
similar things. 

As all now understood the truth, and the bad inten- 
tions and wicked disposition of Diego Velasquez and of 
Narvaez came to light, they rejoiced very greatly that 
God should have ordained and provided such an ending. 
For I assure Your Majesty, that, if God had not mys- 
teriously intervened, and had Narvaez been victorious 
it would have been the greatest injury which for a long 
time past Spaniards had done to one another. 

284 Letters of Cortes 

Narvaez would have fulfilled his intention, as Diego 
Velasquez commanded him, which was to hang me, and 
many others of my company, so that no one should re- 
count what had happened. And, according to what I 
learn from the Indians, they had perceived, that, if Nar- 
vaez were to capture me, as he had told them, it could not 
be without loss to himself and his people, nor without 
many of us perishing; so that they meanwhile could kill 
those whom I had left in Temixtitan, which, indeed, they 
attempted to do. Afterwards they intended to join 
forces, and attack those who remained here, and free 
their country, so that not even a memory of the Spaniards 
should survive. Your Highness may be assured that if 
they had achieved all this, and succeeded in their designs, 
this country, which has now been conquered and pacified, 
would not have been recovered within twenty years. 

As so many people could not be maintained together 
in this city, both because of its being nearly destroyed, 
and because it had been plundered by Narvaez, and 
abandoned by its inhabitants, two days after Narvaez 
had been taken prisoner, I sent two captains, with 
two hundred men each, one to go to the town and 
port of Cucicacalco, which as I have told Your High- 
ness, I had founded, and the other to that river which 
the people from Francisco de Garay's ships said they had 
seen, for I now hold them securely. I likewise sent two 
hundred other men to the city of Vera Cruz, where I 
ordered Narv^aez's ships to go. I remained with the rest 
of the people in Cempoal, to provide whatever Your 
Majesty's service required. I also sent a messenger to 
the city of Temixtitan, by whom I made known to the 
Spaniards I left there what had happened to me. 

These messengers returned within tw^elve days, bring- 
ing me letters from the alcalde ^ there, telling me that the 

' See Appendix VI., close of letter. 

Second Letter 285 

Indians had assaulted the fort on all sides, and set 
fire to it in many parts; that they had sunk mines, 
and that our people had been in much trouble jj^^^ ^^^ 
and danger; and that, if Montezuma did not the 

order the war to cease, they would yet perish, Garrison 
for they were closely surrounded, though there 
was no fighting, and no one could go two paces outside 
the fort. In the fight, the Indians had captured a great 
part of the provisions I had left them, and had burned my 
four brigantines. My men were in extreme need, and 
begged me for the love of God to come to their succour in 
all possible haste. Seeing the extremity in which these 
Spaniards were, and that if I did not rescue them, besides 
the Indians killing them, and taking all the gold, and 
silver, and valuables, which I had obtained in the country, 
belonging to Your Majesty and also to me and the 
Spaniards, the noblest and greatest city recently dis- 
covered in the world would be lost, and with it all else 
that had been gained, for it was the capital to which all 
gave obedience. I immediately sent messengers to the 
captains whom I had sent off with expeditions, telling 
them what had been written me from the capital, and 
directing them to return immediately from wherever they 
were found, and to come by the shortest route to the 
province of Tlascaltecal, where I, with the people, and all 
the artillery in my power, and the seventy horsemen, 
would unite with them. When we joined forces, and 
made a review, there were found to be seventy horsemen, 
and five hundred foot soldiers. 

I started in all haste with these troops for the capital, 
and the whole length of the road there never appeared 
anybody from Montezuma to receive me, as was cus- 
tomary, and all the country had risen, and was almost 
deserted, which aroused evil suspicions lest the Spaniards 
whom I had left in the city were dead, and the natives 
had gathered to await me at some pass, where they would 

286 Letters of Cortes 

take me at a disadvantage. Thus, fearful, I advanced 
with the utmost precaution until I reached the city of 
Tesnacan, ' which, as I have already recounted to Your 
Majesty, is on the shore of that great lake. I inquired 
of some of the natives there about the Spaniards who 
had remained in the great city, and was told that they 
were alive. I asked them to bring me a canoe, as I 
wished to send a Spaniard to obtain information, and 
said that while he was gone, one of the natives of the 
said city, who seemed to be a chief, must remain with 
me, because none of the lords and chiefs whom I knew 
appeared. The chief sent for the canoe, and dispatched cer- 
tain Indians with the Spaniards whom I was sending, while 
he remained with me; but while this Spaniard was em- 
barking to go to the city of Temixtitan, he saw another 
canoe coming across the lake, and waited in port until 
it arrived. In it came one of the Spaniards who had 
remained in the city, from whom I learned that they 
were all aliv^e, except five or six whom the Indians had 
killed, and that the others were still besieged, and were 
not allowed to come out of the fort, nor did the Indians 
provide them with anything needful except on payment, 
and at a heavy price. Afterwards, however, when they 
heard of my coming, they had behaved somewhat better 
towards them, Montezuma saying that he waited only 
for my arrival, in order that they might again be free of 
the city as they used to be. Montezuma also dispatched 
a messenger to me wdth the said Spaniard, by whom he 
sent me word that he believed I already knew what 
had happened in that city, and that as he thought I 
might be angry on account of it, and inclined to ven- 
geance, he besought me to put aside my anger because he 
was as much grieved as I, and that nothing had been done 
by his wish or consent. He sent me news of many other 

» Texcoco. 

Second Letter 287 

things, to appease the anger he supposed I felt for what 
had happened, desiring me to come to the city and 
saying that whatever I ordered would be complied with 
no less than before. I sent him word to say that I was 
not angry with him in any way, as his good will was well 
known to me, and that I would do as he desired. 

The next day, which was the eve of St. John Baptist, ^ 
I left, and slept on the road, three leagues from the 
capital, and on St. John's Day, after having Cortes 
heard Mass, I entered about noon, and saw Re-enters 
few people about the city. Some of the gates Mexico 
at the cross streets and entrances to the streets 
had been removed, which I did not like, although 
I thought that it had been done from fear, and that 
my arrival would reassure them. I marched directly 
to the fort, in which, and in the principal mosque ad- 
joining, all my people were quartered; and those within 
the fort received us with as much joy as if we had given 
them anew their lives, which they had already looked 
upon as lost, and we rejoiced all that day and night, 
believing that peace had been restored. 

The next day after Mass I sent a messenger to Vera 
Cruz, to give them the good news that the Christians 
were alive, and that I was safe in the city. The messen- 
ger returned within half an hour, with his head all bruised 
and broken, calling out that the Indians in the city were 
in array of battle, and had raised all the bridges; and, 
immediately after him, such a great multitude fell upon 
us from all sides, that neither the roofs nor the houses 
could be seen for the crowd, which came on with the 
greatest shoutings, and most frightftil yells which could 
be conceived in the world. With their slings, they threw 
so many stones into the fortress, that it seemed as if they 
rained from the heavens, while arrow^s and missiles were 
so thick, that all the buildings and courts were so full 

1 Day before St. John's Day, which fell on Sunday, June 23. 

2S8 Letters of Cortes 

of them we coukl hardly move about. I salHcd forth 
against them on two or three sides, where they fought us 
very valiantly, and in one place, where a captain had gone 
out with two hundred men, they killed four, and wounded 
him and many others, before he could retreat. On the 
other side, where I was engaged, they wounded me, and 
many other Spaniards. We killed few of them, for they 
retreated to the other side of the bridges, and from 
the roofs and terraces did us much injury with stones. 
Some terraces we captured and set on fire; but they were 
so many and so strong, and so filled with people, well 
supplied with stones and other kinds of weapons, that we 
were not strong enough to take them all, nor to defend 
ourselves against their attack at their pleasure. They 
attacked the fort so violently, and set fire to it in so 
many places, that on one side a great part was destroyed 
without our being able to prevent it, until we stopped it 
by breaking the walls, and pulling dow^n a part which 
put out the fire. Had it not been for the strong guard 
of musketeers and archers with some field pieces I placed 
there, they would have scaled that part without our being 
able to resist them. Thus we fought all that day until 
night was well advanced, and even throughout the night 
they kept up their cries and yells. During the night, I had 
those breaches caused by the fire repaired, and all the 
rest of the fort which seemed weak to me; and I dis- 
tributed the watch and the guards, for on the next day 
we would have to fight stoutly; and I cared for more than 
eighty wounded. 

At dawn the folloudng day, the enemy opened the 
battle more stoutly than the day before, there being 
Death of such a number of them that the artillery 
Montez\ima_ had no need to aim but just to shoot into the 
mases of Indians. Although the artillery did much 
damage, for thirteen arquebuses were playing, besides 
muskets and archery which were also doing ser\-ice 

Second Letter 289 

it seemed as if they did not feel it, for when one 
discharge would sweep away ten or twelve men, more 
would immediately fill their places, as if it had done 
no harm at all. Leaving the necessary guard, such 
as could be spared, in the fort, I again made a sortie, and 
captured some bridges, and burnt some houses, killing 
many of the defenders; but they were so numerous that, 
although we did them a good deal of damage, we made 
very little impression on them. We had to fight all day 
long, while they fought by hours, because they relieved 
one another, and even thus they had more than enough 
men. That day, they also wounded some fifty or sixty 
Spaniards, although none of them died; and I fought 
until nightfall, retiring only from sheer fatigue into the 
fort. Seeing the great damage the enemy did us, and 
how they wounded and killed us at will, and that, al- 
though we did much injury amongst them, it was hardly 
perceptible on account of their number, we spent that 
whole night and the next day in making three engines 
of wood, each accommodating twenty men, so that they 
could not hurt us throwing stones from the roofs, 
for the engines were covered with planks. Inside there 
were archers and musketeers, and others armed with 
pikes, pickaxes and bars of iron for making breaches in 
the houses, and knocking down the barricades which the 
Indians had made in the streets. While these machines 
were being made, the combat with our adversaries did 
not cease, for whenever we went out of the fort, they 
would strive to enter, being repulsed only with great 
difficulty, Montezuma, who with one of his sons and 
many other chiefs who had been captured at the beginning, 
was still a prisoner, asked to be carried to the roof of the 
fort where he could speak to the captains and the people, 
and cause the war to cease. I had him taken thither, and 
when he reached the parapet on the top of the fort, in- 
tending to speak to the people who were fighting there, 

VOL. I. — ig 

290 Letters of Cortes 

one of his own subjects struck him on the head with a 
stone, with such force that within three days he died. I then 
had him taken out, dead as he was, by two of the Indian 
prisoners, who bore him away to his people ; but I do not 
know what they did with him, except that the war did 
not cease, but went on more stoutly and more fiercely 
every day. ^ 

That same day, they called me to the place where 
they had wounded Montezuma, saying that certain 
captains wished to speak to me. I went, and there 
passed many arguments betw^een us, I beseeching them 
not to fight with me because there was no reason for 
it, as they must perceive the benefits they had received 
from me, and how they had been well treated by me. 
Their answer was that I must depart and leave them 
their country, and then the w^ar would cease, and that 
otherwise I might be sure that they would either die, or 
finish us. It appears they did this to draw me out of the 
fort, ''so that they might, at their pleasure, trap me between 
the bridges, while in the act of leaving the city. I an- 
swered that they must not think I begged for peace from 
fear of them, but because I was grieved at the damage I 
had done them and w^ould still have to do them ; and also 
for the destruction of such a beautiful city. Still they 
answered that they would not cease to make war upon 
me until I left the city. 

After having completed the engines, I sallied out 
the next day to capture certain roofs and bridges, carrying 
the engines before us, followed by four pieces of artillery, 
many archers and shield bearers, and more than three 
thousand natives of Tascaltecal w^ho had come with me 
and helped the Spaniards. When we reached one of the 
bridges, we placed the engines and scaling ladders against 
the walls of the terraces, in order to scale them; but the 
defenders of the said bridges and terraces were so nu- 

» Appendix VII., death of Montezuma. 

Second Letter 291 

merous, and threw so many and such large stones at us 
from above, that they injured the engines and killed some 
of the Spaniards, and wounded many without our being 
able to advance one pace, although we struggled for it, 
fighting from morning till noon, when we returned to 
the fort with infinite sorrow. Their courage was in- 
creased so much by this, that they attacked us almost 
at the very doors, and occupied the great temple; about 
five hundred who appeared to me to be notable persons, 
ascended the highest and principal tower, carrying up a 
large supply of bread and water and other stores. Most 
of them had very long lances with very broad points, all 
longer and broader than ours, and not less sharpened^ 
and from there they did great injury to the people in the 
fort, for they were very near it. Two or three times 
the Spaniards attacked the tower and attempted to 
mount it, but, as it was very high, and the ascent very 
steep, being a hundred and odd steps, and those above 
were well supplied with stones and other arms, and 
favoured by the fact that we could not capture the 
neighbouring teiTaces, every time the Spaniards at- 
tempted to ascend they were rolled back beaten, and 
many were wounded. Others of the enemy who saw this 
from other parts took fresh courage, so that they attacked 
the fort fiercely. 

Observing that if they succeeded in holding that 
tower, besides doing us much injury from it, they also 
gained fresh courage to attack us, I sallied cortes 

out from the fort, although my left hand was Captures 
maimed by a wound which I had received ^^^ Great 
on the first day. I advanced to the tower ^°*^^ * 
with some Spaniards who followed me, and easily 
succeeded in surrounding the base, although those who 
surrounded it were not idle, as they had to fight the 

> Obsidian, a hard black stone capable of taking an edge as keen as 
a razor. 

292 Letters of Cortes 

adversaries on all sides, who, for the purpose of helping 
their own men, came in increased numbers. And I 
began to ascend the tower, followed by some Spaniards, 
but they defended the ascent very stubbornly, throwing 
down three or four of my followers. With the help of 
God, and His Glorious Mother (for whose house that 
tower had been set aside, her image being placed in it) , 
we reached the top, where we fought them so stoutly 
that they were forced to jump down on some terraces 
about a pace broad which extended round it. This tower 
had three or four of these terraces about sixteen feet one 
above the other. Some of the enemy fell all the way 
down, and, in addition to the injuries they received in 
the fall, were immediately killed by the Spaniards who 
surrounded the base of the tower. Those who remained 
on the terrace fought so valiantly, that we were more than 
three hours in completely dispatching them ; and not one 
escaped. Your Sacred Majesty may believe that we 
captured this tower only because God had clipped their 
wings; because twenty of them were sufficient to resist 
the ascent of a thousand men even though they fought 
very valiantly till death. I had the tower set on fire, as 
well as others in the mosque, from which they had already 
taken away and carried off the images we had placed in 
them. ^ 

Some of their pride was taken out of them by our 
obtaining this advantage, so that they fell back a little 
on all sides, and I afterwards returned to the roof, and 
spoke to the captains who had talked with me before, and 
who were somewhat dismayed by what they had seen. 
They immediately appeared, and I told them to look 
about and see that they could not hold out anywhere, 
and that every day we did them great harm and killed 

> The cathedral of Mexico stands on this site, and the statue of 
the Blessed Virgin which Cortes first placed in the Aztec temple" is said 
to be the one now venerated in the Church of los Remedios near Tacuba. 

Second Letter 293 

many, and that we were forced to burn and destroy their 
city, for I would not stop till there was nothing left of it 
or them. They answered, that they saw very well that 
they had sustained much damage from us, and that many 
of them had perished, but that they were already all 
fully determined to die, or be rid of us, and that I might 
behold how all these streets and squares and terraces were 
filled with people, who were so numerous that they had 
made their calculations that, if twenty-five thousand 
of them perished for every one of ours, they would finish 
with us first, for we were few and they were many. They 
told me all the high roads leading to the entrances to the 
city had been destroyed (as, in fact, they had destroyed 
all save one) , and that we had no way of escape save by 
water; and that they knew very well that, as we had few 
provisions and little fresh water, we could not hold out 
much longer, for we would die by hunger, even if they 
did not kill us. In truth they were right, for, though 
we had no other enemy save starvation and the want of 
provisions, these would suffice to kill us in a short time. 
We exchanged many other arguments, each sustaining 
his 0\vn side. 

When night set in, I sallied forth with certain Spaniards, 
and, as we took them by surprise, we captured a street 
from them, burning more than three hundred houses. I 
quickly returned by another street, while the people had 
assembled in that one, in which I also burned many 
houses; especially some terraces which overlooked the 
fort, from which they did us much damage. They were 
greatly frightened by what we had done that night; and 
during the same night I ordered the engines, which had 
been damaged the day before, to be repaired. 

In order to follow up the victory God had given us, 
I sallied forth at daybreak into the same street where we 
had been routed the day before, where I found not less 
resistance than on the former occasion. As our lives 

294 Letters of Cortes 

and honour were at stake, and that street led to the only 
sound causeway extending to the mainland (though, 
before reaching it, we had to pass by eight very large and 
deep bridges, and in all the street there were many quite 
high terraces and towers) we set our determination and 
spirit in it, so that, God helping us, we gained four of them 
that day, and burned all the terraces, and houses, and 
towers, to the last of the bridges. They had, however, 
during the night before, made a number of very strong 
barricades of adobes and clay at all the bridges, so that 
the discharges of arrows from the crossbows could do 
them no harm. We filled in the bridges with the adobes 
and earth from the enclosures, and with a quantity of 
stones and wood from the houses we had burned, al- 
though this work was not done without danger, and many 
Spaniards were wounded. That night I took many 
precautions to guard those bridges so that they might 
not return and retake them. 

The next morning I again sallied forth, and God gave 
us likewise such good fortune and victory, although 
innumerable people defended the bridges, and many 
strong barricades which they had made during the night 
before, yet we captured them all, and filled them up. 
At the same time certain horsemen followed victoriously 
in pursuit of the fugitives as far as the mainland. While 
I was engaged in repairing the bridges, and in ha\'ing 
them filled up, I was called in great haste, being told 
that the Indians who attacked the fort were suing for 
peace, and that certain chiefs and captains of them were 
awaiting me. Leaving my people and certain field- 
pieces there, I, with two or three horsemen, went to see 
what the chiefs wanted. They said, that, if I would 
assure them that they would not be punished for what 
had occurred, they would raise the siege, re-establish the 
bridges, restore the causeways, and serve Your Majesty 
as they had before. They besought me to have brought 

Second Letter 295 

there one of their people, a reHgious whom I had made 
a prisoner, and who was similar to a superior of their 
religion. He came, and spoke with them, and made an 
agreement between them and me; and, as it appeared, 
and according to what they had said, they immediately 
sent messengers to the captains and people who were in 
outside camps, telling them that the attack on the fort 
should cease, as well as all other hostilities. Thus we 
took our leave and I entered the fort to eat. 

When I was about to begin, some one came hastily, to 
say that the Indians had regained the bridges which 
we had captured that day, and had killed Narrow 
some Spaniards. God only knows how much Escape of 
disturbance this caused me, for I was think- Cortes 

ing that we had assured a passage for our retreat. 
I mounted my horse with all possible haste, and 
rode through the length of the street, with some 
other horsemen following me, and, without halting 
anywhere, I again dashed through the Indians, and 
recaptured the bridges, pursuing the enemy to the 
mainland. As the foot soldiers were very tired, and 
wounded, and dismayed, none of them followed me, and 
this left me in a very dangerous situation after I had 
passed the bridges. When I sought to return, I found 
them retaken, and more deeply dug out than when we 
had filled them up, and from one side to the other all the 
causeway was full of people, not only on land, but also in 
canoes on the water, who goaded us, and stoned us in 
such a manner, that, if God had not interposed to save 
us it would have been impossible to escape ; indeed it was 
even already announced in the city that I was dead. 
When I reached the last bridge nearest the city, I found 
all the horsemen who had gone with me fallen in it, and 
one horse loose, so that I could not pass, but was obliged 
to return alone in face of my enemies. I forced something 
of a passage, so that the horses passed, and after this, I 

296 Letters of Cortes 

found the bridge free, though I crossed with much trouble, 
for I had to jump the horse from one side to the other, 
almost six feet, but, as I and he were armoured, they did 
us no serious hurt beyond slight body wounds. Thus 
victory was theirs that night, for they had captured the 
said four bridges. 

Leaving a guard over the other four, I went to the 
fort, and had a wooden bridge constructed which forty 
men could carry, and, seeing our great danger, and the 
great damage we daily received from the Indians, and 
fearing also that they might destroy that causeway as 
they had the others, when we would all inevitably perish, 
and because many of my company entreated me many 
times to depart, and because all, or nearly all, were 
wounded so badly that they could no longer fight, I 
determined to leave that same night. I collected in 
a room all the gold and jewels belonging to Your 
Majesty that could be carried, and I delivered it in 
parcels to the officials of Your Highness, whom I 
designated in your royal name, beseeching and re- 
quiring the alcaldes, and municipal authorities, and all 
the people who were there, to help me take it away. I 
gave one of my mares for this purpose, on which they 
loaded as much as she could cany ; and I designated certain 
Spaniards, not only from my servants, but also of the 
others, to accompany the said gold and mare, and the 
rest of the officials, alcaldes, municipal officers, and 
myself, gave and distributed the remainder to the 
Spaniards to carry away. 

Having abandoned the fort, and much treasure, be- 
longing not only to Your Highness, but also to the 
The Spaniards and myself, I set forth as secretly 

Sorrowful as possible, taking with me a son and two 
^^s^^ daughters of Montezuma, Cacamazin, the 

lord of Aculuacan, and another of his brothers, whom 
I had put in his place, and some other chiefs of 

Second Letter 297 

of the provinces and cities whom I held as prisoners. 
When we reached the bridges which the Indians had 
removed we laid down the bridge which I carried with little 
trouble at the first crossing, for there was none to offer 
resistance save certain watchmen who shouted so loudly, 
that, before we came to the second, an infinite multitude 
of the enemy had risen against us, battling on every side 
both on water and land. I crossed rapidly with five 
horsemen and five hundred foot-soldiers, with whom 
I passed all the other broken bridges swimming until 
I reached the mainland. Leaving those people there, I 
returned to the others and found that they were fighting 
stoutly; but the injury our people received was beyond 
calculation, not only the Spaniards, but also the Tas- 
caltecas who were with us, being nearly all killed. 
Though the Spaniards killed many natives, many of the 
Spaniards and horses were killed, likewise, and all the 
gold, and jewels, and many other things which we carried, 
and all the artillery, were lost. 

When the survivors were collected, I pushed them on 
ahead, while I, with three or four horsemen and about 
twenty foot-soldiers who ventured to remain with me, took 
the rear-guard, fighting the Indians until we arrived at 
a city, called Tacuba, at the end of that causeway. God 
only knows how much trouble and danger I endured, 
because every time I faced about against our adversaries, 
I came back full of arrows, and darts, and stones, for as 
there was water on both sides, they could assail us with 
impunity and fearlessly. When we attacked those on 
land they would leap into the water, thus receiving very 
little hurt, except that some who in the skirmish 
interfered with each other and feU, were killed. With 
great trouble and fatigue, I conducted my remaining 
people to the city of Tacuba without being killed myself, 
nor having any Spaniard or Indian wounded, except one 
horseman who had gone with me to the rear. Those who 

298 Letters of Cortes 

went in the vanguard did not have less fighting than those 
on the flanks, although the strongest force was the one 
at our backs where the people of the city pursued us7| 

When I reached the city of Tacuba, I found all the 
peojile in a panic in the square, not knowing where to 
go, so I made great haste to get them out into the country, 
before more of the inhabitants should gather in the said 
city and capture the roofs, from which they could do us 
great injury. The vanguard said they did not know the 
way, so I sent them to the rear, and took the lead myself 
until we had got clear of the city, where I awaited them 
at some farms. When the rear-guard came up, I learned 
that they had sustained some injury, and that some of 
the Spaniards and Indians had been killed, and that 
much gold had been lost and left on the road, where the 
Indians gathered it up. I held the Indians in check there 
until all the people had passed on, so that the foot-soldiers 
might take the hill, on which there stood a strong tower 
and buildings. These they captured without sustaining 
any injury, for I did not leave my place, nor allow the 
enemy to advance, until they had secured the hill. God 
only knows the trouble and fatigue we sustained, for no 
horse of the twenty-four was left which could still run, 
nor any horseman who could raise his arms, nor a sound 
foot-soldier who could move. When we reached the 
buildings, we fortified ourselves in them, and the enemy 
surrounded us and besieged us until night, not leaving us 
an hour's rest. We found that over one hundred and 
fifty Spaniards were killed in this fight, forty-five mares 
and horses, and more than two thousand of the Indians 
who had aided the Spaniards; amongst the latter, they 
killed the son and daughters of Montezuma, and all the 
other chiefs w^hom we carried prisoners. 

At midnight, believing we were not observ^ed, we left 
the said lodgings very silently, leaving many fires burning 
in it, not knowing any road, nor where we were going. 

Second Letter 299 

except that an Indian of Tascaltecal told us he would 
guide us to his country if they did not stop us on the 
way. There were some watchmen very near who heard 
us, and alarmed many towns round about, from which 
numbers of people gathered and pursued us until day- 
break. At that time five horsemen who rode ahead as 
scouts met some bands of people along the road, and 
killed some of them ; these were routed under the belief that 
more horsemen and foot-soldiers were coming up. When 
I saw that our enemies were gathering from all sides, I got 
into order our people who were still fit for service, making 
squadrons, and placing them in the vanguard, rear-guard, 
and on the flanks, with the wounded in the centre, and 
I likewise distributed the horsemen. Thus we continued 
all that day, fighting on all sides, so that during the whole 
night and day we did not advance more than three leagues. 
When night came on Our Lord was pleased to show us 
a tower and good lodging place on a hill, where we again 
fortified ourselves, and during that night they left us 
in peace, although at dawn we had some disturbance 
from a false alarm caused by our own fears of the 
multitude which kept coming in pursuit of us. 

The next morning, one hour after daybreak, I departed 
in the order already mentioned, taking my vanguard 
and rear-guard in good order; and on all sides we were 
followed by the enemy, yelling, and raising the whole 
country, which is thickly populated. The horsemen, al- 
though we were few attacked them, but did little harm 
amongst them, because, the ground being rough, they 
would retreat to the hills. In this manner, we marched 
that day along some lakes, ^ till we reached a populous 
town, where we thought to have some skirmish with the 
townspeople. When we arrived there, they abandoned it, 
and went to some other towns thereabouts in the neigh- 
bourhood. I rested there that day and the next, not only 

1 The lakes of Zumpango, Xaltocan, and San Cristobal. 

300 Letters of Cortes 

because both the wounded and the sound ones of my 
people were very weary and exhausted with hunger and 
thirst, and the horses hkewise W'ere well tired out, but 
also because we found there some maize which we ate and 
carried away with us on the road, boiled and roasted. 
We left the next day, always pursued by our adver- 
saries, who attacked us on the vanguard and rear-guard 
with many yells. We continued our march, guided by 
the Indian of Tascaltecal, during which we suffered much 
trouble and fatigue, for many times we lost our way. 
When it was already late, we reached a plain, where there 
were some small houses in which we lodged that night, 
sufifering great want of food. 

Early next morning w^e began our march, and, before 
we reached the road, our enemies still followed our rear- 
guard. Constantly skirmishing with them, we arrived 
at a large town, two leagues distant, where there were 
some Indians stationed on the top of a small hill to the 
right. Believing that we might capture them, as they 
were near the road, and also discover if there were just 
behind the hill, any more than those who were visible, 
I started round the said hill with five horsemen and twelve 
foot-soldiers, and behind it there was a great city^ of 
many people with whom w^e engaged fiercely. On account 
of the rocky country, and the great number of their people, 
and our small numbers, we had to retire to the town 
where our people were. I came out of this, very badly 

' Otumba. Prescott observes that even Bernal Diaz, who was some- 
what sceptical on other occasions, admits the apparition of St. James 
mounted on a white charger at Otumba. Voltaire comments as follows: 
" Ceux qui ont fait des revelations de ces itranges evenemens les ont voulu 
relever par des miracles qui ne servent en effet qu'a les rabaisser. Le vrai 
miracle fUt la coruiuite de Cortez." Possibly, but it is by the faith which 
we were promised should move mountains that such heroic deeds are 
accomplished, and the material apparition required to satisfy a Voltaire 
would be but a poor thing compared to the reality of the Spanish con- 
queror's faith in the presence and guidance of his patron saints. As 
well doubt the Pucelle's belief in her " Voices. '.' 

Second Letter 301 

wounded in the head by two sling stones, and after bind- 
ing up the wounds I made the Spaniards leave the town, 
because it did not seem to me a safe camp for us ; and we 
marched thus with great numbers of Indians pursuing 
us, fighting so stoutly that they woimded four or five 
Spaniards and as many horses. They killed us a horse, 
also, and God only knows how great was its value to us, 
and what pain we suffered at its death, because, after 
God, our only security was the horses; but we consoled 
ourselves with its meat, and ate it without leaving even 
the skin, so great was our want; for, since leaving the 
capital, we had nothing to eat but roasted and boiled 
corn, and not always enough of that, and, in addition, 
some herbs which we gathered in the country. 

Seeing that the enemy increased every day, and grew 
stronger, and that we were becoming weaker, that 
night I ordered the wounded and sick, whom The Battle 
we carried behind us on our ihorses, to pro- o^ Otumba 
vide themselves with crutches and other contriv- 
ances for supporting themselves, so that the horses 
and sound Spaniards would be free to fight. From 
what happened to us the next day, it seemed that 
the Holy Ghost had inspired me with this thought, 
for, after we had left this camp in the morning, and 
marched about a league and a half, so great a multitude 
of Indians came out to encounter me, that all about us 
we could not see the ground, so completely was it covered 
by them. They attacked us on all sides so violently that 
we could not distinguish each other, for being so pressed 
and entangled with them. Certainly we believed that 
to be our last day, so great was the force of the Indians 
and so feeble the resistance they encountered in us; for 
we were already exhausted, and almost all of us wounded 
and fainting from hunger. But Our Lord was pleased 
to show His great power and mercy to us, for, with all 
our weakness, we broke their great pride and haughtiness, 

302 Letters of Cortes 

in that many of their prominent and important persons 
perished, for they were so many that they hindered one 
another, and were unable either to fight or to fly. We 
spent a great part of the day in this struggle, until it 
pleased God that one of those persons, who must have 
been an important chief, fell, for with his death all the 
battle ceased. After this, we continued our way more 
easily, although some of them still harassed us until we 
reached a small house in the plain, where we lodged that 
night and on the open ground. From there we first 
descried certain mountains of the province of Tascaltecal, 
at which not a little joy filled our hearts, because we 
recognised the country, and knew our way, although we 
were not quite positive of finding the natives faithful and 
friendly; for we feared that, seeing us so reduced, they 
might w4sh to put an end to our lives, in order to recover 
the liberty which they had formerly enjoyed. This 
thought and suspicion cast us into an affliction which 
equalled that which we felt whilst fighting with the 

The next morning at daybreak, we began to march 
by a very level road which led directly to the said province 
of Tascaltecal upon which only a few of our adversaries 
followed, although very near were many large towns; 
from some hills in our rear, though, from a distance, they 
still continued yelling at us. On this day, which was 
Sunday, July 8th, we left all the country of Culua, and 
entered the province of Tascaltecal, at a village of some 
three or four thousand households, called Gualipan, ^ 
where the natives received us very well, and somewhat 
relieved our great hunger and weariness, although for 
much of the provision which they gave us they asked 
payment, and would only accept gold. This we were 
obliged in our great necessity to give. 

We remained three days in this town, and Magiscatzin, 

> Hueyothlipan. 

Second Letter 303 

and Sicutengal, and all the chiefs of the said province 
and some of those of Quasucingo, came to see and speak 
to me, showing much grief for what had happened to us, 
and endeavouring to console me, reminding me that they 
had often told me that the Culuans were' traitors against 
whom I should be on my guard, but that I would not 
believe it. Inasmuch as I had escaped alive, they said 
I ought to rejoice, for they would aid me until death to 
obtain satisfaction for the injury the Culuans had done 
me. They added that they felt obliged to do this as 
vassals of Your Highness, besides which they also suffered 
because of the many sons and brothers who had perished 
in my company, and on account of other injuries which 
in past times they had recei\ed, so I might be sure they 
would be my true and steadfast friends until death. As 
I now came wounded and almost all of my company 
exliausted, they wanted us to go into the city, four 
leagues from this town, where w^e might rest, and they 
would care for us and restore us. I was very grateful to 
them, and accepted their invitation, and gave them some 
few things from the valuables which had escaped, at which 
they were well contented; and I went w4th them to the 
said city, where I likewise had a good reception. Magis- 
catzin brought me a bedstead of finely finished wood, with 
some bed-clothing, such as they used, for me to sleep in, 
for we brought none; and he helped everybody with all 
that he had and could. 

When I quit this city for Temixtitan, I had left here 
certain sick persons and some of my servants w4th silver 
and wearing apparel belonging to me, and certain other 
household things and provisions, in order to march 
forward unencumbered lest anything should happen 
to us, and all the documents and agreements which I had 
made with the natives of these parts should be lost. All 
the clothing of the Spaniards who came with me had 
likewise been left, as they only took away what they wore, 

304 Letters of Cortes 

and their bedding. I learned that another servant of 
mine had come from Vera Cruz, bringing provisions and 
things for me. He had been accompanied by horse- 
men and forty-five foot-soldiers, and had likewise taken 
with him the others whom I had left there. He carried 
all the silver and clothing, my own as well as that of my 
companions, with seven thousand dollars of melted gold, 
which I had left there in two chests, without counting 
other valuables, and other fourteen thousand dollars of 
gold in pieces, which had been given, in the province of 
Tuchitepeque, to that captain whom I had sent to build 
the town of Quacucalco. He carried also many other 
things which were worth more than thirty thousand 
dollars of gold. This I learned, and also that the Indians 
of Culua had killed them all on the road, and taken their 
treasure. I likewise learned that they had killed, on the 
roads, many other Spaniards who were coming to the 
city of Temixtitan, believing that I was there at peace, 
and that the roads w^ere as secure as I had before held 
them. I assure Your Majesty that all of us were plunged 
into such sadness by this news that it could hardly have 
been worse, because the loss of these Spaniards and the 
treasure recalled the deaths and losses of the Spaniards 
who had been killed in the city, at the bridges, and on 
the road; and especially as it roused much suspicion in 
me that, in like manner, the people of Vera Cruz might 
have been attacked, and that those whom we considered 
our friends might have rebelled, upon hearing of our defeat. 
To learn the truth, I immediately dispatched messengers 
accompanied by Indians to guide them, whom I ordered 
to avoid the high road until they arrived at Vera Cruz, and 
to let me know promptly what had happened there. It 
pleased Our Lord that they should find the Spaniards very 
weU, and the natives perfectly faithful. It was a great 
relief to learn this after our losses and griefs, though it was 
very bad news for them to hear of our disaster and rout. 

Second Letter 305 

I remained twenty days in this province of Tascaltecal, 
healing my wounds which with the poor care on the 
road had become much worse, especially the Events in 
wound on my head; and I also had all the Tlascala 
wounded of my company cared for. Some of them 
died, not only from their wounds, but also on ac- 
count of our past troubles; others remained maimed 
in their arms, and others lame in their legs, for their 
wounds were very bad, and for curing them there was 
very little means. I myself lost two fingers of my left 

Seeing that many of ours were dead, and that those 
who survived were wounded, and disheartened by the 
dangers and troubles through which they had passed, and 
fearing others still ahead, my men entreated me many 
times to go to Vera Cruz; for there we could fortify our- 
selves before those natives, whom we still considered our 
friends, seeing our rout and diminished numbers, could 
join with our enemies, and, taking the passes over which 
we had to cross, attack us on the one side, and our people 
at Vera Cruz on the other. Being there together, and 
having ships we would be stronger and better able to 
defend ourselves, in case they should attack before we 
summoned aid from the Islands. I, however, remembered 
that Fortune is always on the side of the daring, and that 
we were Christians, confiding in the very great mercy 
of God, who would never permit us to perish; and I con- 
sidered that to show so little courage before the natives, 
especially our friends, might cause them to abandon us 
the sooner, and turn against us ; that this great and noble 
country, at peace and on the point of being secured 
under Your Majesty, would be lost. The war must be 
continued, to bring about the pacification of this country 
as it was before, and I determined on no account to go 
to the sea-port, but rather, disregarding all difficulty and 
danger which might ofler, I said that I would not abandon 

TOL. I. 

3o6 Letters of Cortes 

this country; for besides its being disgraceful to me and 
very dangerous to all, we would act treasonably towards 
Your Majesty, and I was determined to return against 
the enemy from all possible points, and to take the 
offensive against them in every way I could. 

After stopping twenty days in this province, although 
I was not yet well of my wounds, and those of my com- 
Expedition P^ny were still somewhat weak, I left for 
to another, called Tepeaca, which belonged to 

Tepeaca ^j^g league and confederation of Culua, our 
enemy. I had been informed that the inhabitants 
there had killed ten or twelve Spaniards who were 
on their way by the road which passes there, from 
Vera Cruz to the capital. The said province of Tepeaca 
borders with those of Tascaltecal and Churultecal, 
for it is very large. As we were entering that province, 
many natives came out to attack us, defending the road, as 
best they could, by fortifying themselves in strong 
and dangerous positions. To avoid prolixity, I do not 
give an account of all the particulars of this war ; I will 
only say that, after the requirements had been made on 
the part of Your Majesty, that they should make peace, 
and they had refused to submit, we fought with them 
several times; and, with the help of God, and the royal 
good fortune of Your Highness, we always scattered 
them, and killed many, without their killing one of us 
in the whole course of the said war, or wounding one 
solitary Spaniard. Although, as I have said, this prov- 
ince is very large, I pacified many cities and provinces 
subject to it in about twenty da^^s, and the lords and 
chiefs of it came and offered themselves as vassals to 
Yoiir Majesty. Moreover I expelled rmany Culuans, 
who had come to this province to help the natives in 
making war upon us, and to hinder them by fair means 
or foul from becoming our friends. Thus I had to busy 
myself up till now in this matter which is not yet alto- 

Second Letter 307 

gether finished, for there are still some cities and towns 
to be pacified, which by the help of Our Lord will shortly 
be, like these others, subject to the royal dominion of 
Your Majesty. 

In a certain part of this province, where they killed 
those ten Spaniards, the natives were always very active 
in the war, and v^ery rebellious, and had to be reduced 
by force of arms. I made a number slaves, of whom I 
gave a fifth part to the officials of Your Majesty. I did 
this especially as, in addition to their having killed the 
said Spaniards, and rebelled against the service of Your 
Highness, they eat human flesh, a fact. so notorious that 
I do not send proofs of it to Your Majesty. I was also 
moved to make the said slaves in order to strike terror 
into the Culuans, and also because there are many who 
will never mend themselves until great and severe punish- 
ment is inflicted upon them. We entered upon this war 
with the aid of the natives of Tascaltecal, and Churultecal, 
and Quasucingo, by which our friendship has been well 
confirmed; and we are convinced that they will always 
serve Your Highness as loyal vassals. 

While conducting this war in the province of Tepeaca, 
I received letters from Vera Cruz, telling me that two ships 
had arrived in that port, belonging to Francisco de Garay 
who it appears had again sent more people to that great 
river which I described to Your Highness, and that the na- 
tives there had fought with them, kilHng seventeen or eigh- 
teen Christians, and wounding many others. They had 
Hkewise killed seven horses, and the remaining Spaniards 
who returned to the ships had escaped by their good legs. 
The captains and all of them had arrived very much 
shattered and wounded, and my lieutenant had received 
them very kindly and taken care of them. That they 
might convalesce the better, he had sent some of the 
said Spaniards to the country of a friendly chief near 
there, where they were well attended to and provided 

3o8 Letters of Cortes 

for. All this grieved su as much as our own past troubles, 
but perchance this rout would not have happened to 
them if they had united with me at first, as I have al- 
ready recounted to Your Highness; for I was then well 
infonned about everything in these parts, and they would 
have had such advice from me that what had happened 
could not have occurred, especially as the lord of that 
ri\ er and country, called Panuco, had given himself as a 
vassal to Your ^lajesty. In recognition of his allegiance 
he had sent me certain gifts by his messenger to the city 
of Temixtitan, as I have already stated. I have written 
to Vera Cruz, that if the captain of Francisco de Garay de- 
sires to leave, to lend him assistance, and help him to 
dispatch his ships. 

After having pacified and subjugated to the royal ser- 
vice of Your Highness all of this province which has been 
P^^^^ J pacified. Your Majesty's officials and I con- 
Segura ferred many times respecting the measures 
de la to be taken for its security. Seeing that 

rontera ^j^^ natives had first given themselves as vassals 
of Your Highness, and then rebelled and killed the 
Spaniards, and that they were on the road and pass 
where the traffic of all the sea-ports had to pass tow^ards 
the interior, we considered that, if it were left to itself 
as before, the natives of this country, and also of Culua 
who were very near, would again try to seduce them 
into rebellion, from which would follow much harm and 
impediment to the pacification of these parts, and to 
the service of Your Highness; and the said traffic would 
cease, especially as on the road to the coast there are two 
very steep and rough passes, which confine with the said 
province, where the natives could defend themselves 
with little difficulty. For this, as well as for other reasons 
and weighty causes, it seemed to us that, to prevent the 
aforesaid evils, a town should be founded in the best part 
of the said province of Tepeaca, where the necessary con- 

Second Letter 309 

ditions could be found for the colonists. And for the pur- 
pose of carrying this out, I, in the name of Your Majesty, 
gave the said town the name of Segura de la Frontera, ^ 
and I named alcaldes and municipal and other officers 
as is customary; and, for the better security of the house- 
holders of this town, materials are being brought to build 
a fort on the place I designated ; as materials hereabouts 
are of good quality, all possible haste shall be employed. 
While writing this account, messengers came to me 
from the chief of the city, called Guacachula, 2 about five 
leagues from this province, and situated at the entrance of 
a pass leading to the province of Mexico. They told me, 
on behalf of the said chief, that several days before they 
had intended to come to me to tender the obedience they 
owed to Your Majesty, as your vassals, and I must not 
consider them culpable, believing their failure to do so 
was voluntary. They told me that some captains of 
Culua were lodged in their city, and that in it and about 
a league distant were thirty thousand men in garrison, 
guarding that pass, to prevent our crossing it, and also 
to prevent the natives of their city and other neighbouring 
provinces from serving Your Majesty, and becoming 
our friends; and they said they would have come to offer 
themselves to Your Royal service, had those men not 
prevented them. They let me know this that I might 
remedy it, because, besides the obstruction it was to those 
who were well disposed, the people of the city and neigh- 
bourhood suffered much injury, as they were taxed and 
ill-treated by the many armed warriors who took their 
women and chattels. If I would help them, they said 
they would obey any orders I gave them. 

1 The city was founded early in September, 1520, on the hillside, 
in a position both strategically and commercially advantageous; 
fortifications were built and strict laws against gambling, blaspheming, 
etc., were enacted. The present town is called Tepeaca, and stands on 
the plain. 

2 Huaquechula: another republic: also spelled Guaquechula. 

3IO Letters of Cortes 

After thanking them for their information and offer, I 
immediately gave them thirteen horsemen, two hundred 
foot-soldiers, and some thirty thousand Indian allies, 
toj accompany them. * It was agreed that they shoiild 
lead them by roads where they would not be seen, and, 
when they approached near the city, its chiefs, and 
inhabitants, and other vassals and confederates, should 
be notified, and should sun^ound the quarters where the 
captains were, to capture and kill them before their men 
could help them, so that, when the latter did appear, 
the Spaniards would already be in the city waiting to 
fight and rout them. They and the Spaniards marched 
by the city of Churultecal and through some parts of the 
province of Quasucingo, which borders on the territory 
of Guacachula within four leagues of it; and, in a town 
of the said province of Quasucingo, it is said that they 
told the Spaniards that the natives of that province were 
leagued with the Guacachulans and Culuans to entice the 
Spaniards with this project to the said city, where they 
could kill them. As the fright, with which the Culuans 
in their city and country had inspired them, had not yet 
altogether abated, this information alarmed the Span- 
iards ; and the captain whom I had sent with them made 
an investigation, and took prisoner all those chiefs of 
Quasucingo who were with them, and the messengers from 
the city of Guacachula, and returned with them to the 
city of Churultecal, four leagues from there. Thence, 
together with the proofs he had obtained, he sent to me 
all the prisoners, attended by horsemen and foot-soldiers. 
The captain also wrote me that our people were frightened 
because the enterprise seemed very difficult. On the 
arrival of the prisoners I spoke to them by my interpreter, 
and, having used all diligence to learn the truth, it ap- 
peared that the captain had misjudged them so I im- 

* Diego de Ordaz and Alonso de Avila were in charge of this 
expedition which took the road by Cholula. 

Second Letter 311 

mediately set them free and satisfied them, protesting 
that T believed them loyal vassals of Your Sacred Ma- 
jesty, and that I would go myself to destroy the Culuans. 
To avoid showing any timidity or hesitancy to the na- 
tives, both friends and enemies, it seemed that I ought not 
to abandon the proposed expedition. To relieve the fears 
of some of the Spaniards, I determined to suspend other 
business, and the dispatch for Your Majesty which I was 
writing, and thus I set out that same hour with all possi- 
ble haste, arriving the same day at the city of Churultecal 
(which is eight leagues from this city) where I found 
the Spaniards, who still affirmed their conviction of the 

The next day, I slept in the town of Quasucingo, 
where the chiefs had been arrested. Having agreed 
with the messengers of Guacachula as to where Capture of 
and how we should enter their city, I started Guacachula 
the next day, one hour before daybreak, arriving 
near it about ten o'clock in the morning. About 
half a league distant from it, certain messengers of 
the city met me on the road to tell me that every- 
thing was well planned and ready, and that the Culuans 
knew nothing of our coming, because the natives of the 
said city had captured certain of their spies, who were 
on the road, and also some others whom the Culuan 
captains had stationed on the walls and towers of the 
city to overlook the country. All our adversaries were 
thus off their guard, believing they were protected by 
their watchmen and spies; hence I might advance un- 
discovered. I therefore made haste to reach the city 
unseen, for we were marching over a plain where we might 
easily be observed. 

It appeared that as soon as the townspeople perceived 
us, and saw how near we were, they immediately sur- 
rounded the quarters of the captains, and began to 
attack the others scattered throughout the city. When 

312 Letters of Cortes 

I arrived within a bow shot of the city, as many as forty 
prisoners were brought to me, and I made the more 
haste to enter. There was a great uproar in all the 
streets of the city. Fighting with the adversaries, and 
guided by the inhabitants, I reached the captains' 
quarters which I found surrounded by more than three 
thousand men striving to enter the gate. They had 
taken possession of the upper stories and terraces, but 
the captains fought so well and so steadily that they could 
not force an entrance; although the Culuans were few, 
they fought like valiant men, and besides the building 
was strong. When I arrived, we entered with so many 
natives that it was impossible to prevent the defenders 
being killed forthwith; for I wished to take some alive, 
in order to get information about matters in the capital, 
and to learn who was sovereign after the death of Mon- 
tezuma, and about other things. I could only rescue 
one more dead than alive, who informed me as I shall 
relate hereafter. They killed many w^ho were quartered 
in the city, and the survivors, learning of my coming, 
began to fly towards the garrison, but many of them 
were likewise killed in the pursuit. This tumult was 
so quickly heard and understood by the men of the 
garrison, who were on a certain elevation, commanding 
the city and the surrounding plain, that those who were 
escaping from the city encountered the others who were 
coming to its relief to see what had happened. The latter 
were altogether more than thirty thousand men, and the 
most brilliant troops we had yet seen, for they wore many 
ornaments of gold, and silv^er, and feathers, and, as the 
city was large, they began to set fire to it in the quarter 
where they entered. This became quickly known to the 
inhabitants, and I sallied forth with only horsemen, 
for the foot-soldiers were already very tired. We broke 
through the enemy, who retreated to a position which we 
took from them, following them up and overtaking many 

Second Letter 313 

of them on a very rough slope, so that when we gained 
the top neither the enemy nor ourselves were able to 
advance or retreat. Many fell dead, without a wound, 
stifled by the heat, and two horses were exhausted, one 
of which died. We did much damage, for many of our 
Indian allies came up, and, as they arrived fresh and the 
adversaries were almost dead, they killed many, so that 
in a very short time the field was cleared of the living, and 
covered with the dead. We reached the barracks and huts 
which they had recently made in the field, and which 
were in three divisions each of which appeared like a 
good-sized village. In addition to their warriors, they 
had a great display of servants, and provisions, and camp 
supplies, there having been, as I learned afterwards, 
some notable persons in it. All was despoiled and burned 
by our Indian friends, who, I assure Your Majesty, had 
gathered to the number of one hundred thousand men. 
Having by this victory expelled all the enemy from the 
country, and driven them beyond some bridges and 
narrow passes, we returned to the city, where we were 
well received, and quartered by the inhabitants; and 
we rested in that city three days, being in great need of 

At this time, the natives of a large city, called Ocupa- 
tuyo (which is on the top of these sierras, two leagues 
from the enemy's camp, and also at the foot of the 
mountain chain, where I said the smoke comes out), came 
to offer themselves to the service of Your Majesty. They 
said that their chief had gone away with the Culuans 
when we pursued them, believing that we would not stop 
before reaching his city, but that they had desired my 
friendship for many days, wishing to come and offer 
themselves as vassals of Your Majesty, although their 
chief would not allow it nor consent to it, in spite of their 
having entreated his permission. They said that now 
they wished to serve Your Highness, and that the brother 

314 Letters of Cortes 

of the said chief, who had shared their opinion and in- 
tentions was hkcwise still of the same mind. They 
prayed me that I would approve his succession to the 
lordship, and that although the other might return, I 
would not consent to his being received as their chief; 
if so neither would they receive him. I told them that, 
as they had been of the league and confederation of 
Culua, and had rebelled against the service of Your 
Majesty, they deserved severe punishment, and that I 
had thought to execute it upon their persons and prop- 
erty ; but, inasmuch as they had come, saying their chief 
was the cause of their rebelHon and uprising, I, in the 
name of Your Majesty, pardoned their past error, and 
received and admitted them to Your Royal service. I 
w^arned them that if they committed a similar error again 
they would be punished and chastised, but if they proved 
loyal v^assals of Your Royal Highness, I would favour 
and help them in Your Royal name ; and they promised 
to do this. 

This city of Guacachula is situated in a plain, bounded 
on one side by very high and rugged hills, and on the 
Fortifica- Other by two rivers about two bow shots 
tionsof apart, each of which flows through very deep 
Guacachula g^^d large ravines. There are, consequently, 
very few entrances to the city, and those which 
exist are so rough to ascend and descend, that it can 
hardly be accomplished on horseback. The entire 
I city is surrounded by a very strong w^all of stone and 
mortar, the outside being about twenty feet high, while 
from the inside it is about on the same level with the 
ground. There is a battlement along the wall three feet 
high, to protect them in fighting, and they have tour 
entrances, broad enough for a man to enter on horseback. 
At each of these entrances, there are three or four ctu-ves 
in the wall, doubhng one over the other, and above these 
turnings there is also a battlement on the walls, from 

Second Letter 315 

which they can fight. They keep a great quantity of all 
sorts of large and small stones all along this wall which 
they use in fighting. This city may have some five or 
six thousand households, and in the surrounding hamlets 
subject to them as many others or more. It is very ex- 
tensive, and within the city are many gardens of fruits 
and aromatic herbs, as is their custom. 

After resting three days in this said city, we went to 
another, called Izzucan, four leagues distant from Gua- 
cachula, because I was informed that there were many 
Culuans in garrison there also, and that the people of 
the said city, and of other towns and places dependent 
on them, were, and showed themselves to be, very partial 
to the Culuans because their chief was a blood relation 
of Montezuma. So many of the natives, vassals of Your 
Majesty, accompanied me that they almost covered the 
coiintry and the mountains as far as we could see, and in 
truth there were more than one hundred and twenty 
thousand men ; and we arrived at the said town of Izzunca 
at ten o'clock, finding it deserted by women and young 
people, but there were about five or six thousand well- 
armed warriors in it. When the Spaniards appeared 
before it, they attempted some defence of their city, but 
they shortly abandoned it, because from the side to which 
we were guided for entering we found a practical entrance. 
We pursued them through the city, forcing them to jump 
over the crenellated top of the wall into a river which 
surrounds it on the other side, whose bridges being 
destroyed we were somewhat delayed in crossing it; and 
we followed in pursuit of them about a league and a half, 
in which distance I believe few escaped. Returning to 
the city, I sent two of its natives who had been taken 
prisoner to speak to the principal persons of the city, 
for the chief of it had also gone with the Culuans of the 
garrison, so as to induce them to return to their city; 
and I promised them in the name of Your Majesty that, 

3i6 Letters of Cortes 

being loyal vassals of Your Highness from henceforth, 
they would be well treated by me, and their rebellion 
and past error forgiven. These natives left, and three 
days later some of the principal persons came and asked 
pardon for their error, saying that they could not have 
acted otherwise, because they had done what their chief 
commanded them, but that they promised from hence- 
forth, inasmuch as their chief had gone and left them, 
to serve Your Majesty well and loyally. I reassured 
them, telling them to return to their homes, and to bring 
back their wives and children who were in other places 
and towns of their allies ; and I told them Hkewise to tell 
the inhabitants of those towns to come to me and I would 
pardon them the past, for they would not like that I should 
be obliged to come to them, as then they would sustain 
much damage, which would greatly grieve me. Thus it 
was done, and within two days that city of Izzucan was 
again populated; and its dependencies came to offer 
themselves as vassals of Your Highness, and all that 
province remained very secure, and, with those of 
Guacachula, our friends and allies. 

A certain difference arose as to whom the province 
of this city of Izzucan belonged in the absence of the 
Disputed ^hief who had gone to Mexico. The former 
Succession rightful chief of this province had been put 
at Izzucan ^q death by Montezuma, who, in his place 
put the present mler, whom he had married to 
one of his own nieces; and a dispute had arisen 
as to the right of succession between a bastard son 
of the murdered chief and the son of his legitimate 
daughter, who had married the chief of Guacachula. It 
was agreed amongst them, that the lordship should 
be inherited by that son of the chief of Guacachula who 
descended by the legitimate line from the old chief, 
for, although the other was a son, he could not inherit 

Second Letter 317 

my presence they gave obedience to that boy, who was 
about ten years old; and, not being of an age to govern 
them, they decided that the bastard uncle should act with 
three other chiefs, one of Guacachula, and two of Izzucan, 
who should be governors of the countr}- and should have 
control of the boy until he should be of an age to rule. 

This city of Izzucan may have some three or four 
thousand households, and its streets and markets are 
well laid out. It has one hundred mosques and strong 
oratories with their towers, all of which we burnt. It 
stands on a plain at the foot of a medium-sized hill, 
where they have a very good fort, and, on the other 
side towards the plain, it is surrounded by a deep river 
which flows near the wall, which is thus surrounded by the 
deep ravine of the river. Over the ravine they have 
made a battlement, about six feet in height, which 
extends all round the city, and all along the wall they 
had placed many stones. The valley is circular, and 
very fertile in fruits and cotton, which latter is not 
produced on the heights because of the cold, and it 
belongs to tierra caliente because it is well protected by 
the mountain ranges. The whole valley is irrigated by 
well constructed aqueducts. 

I remained in this city until I could leave it well peopled 
and pacified. There likewise came to it, to offer them- 
sevles as vassals of Your Majesty the chief of the city 
called Guajocingo, and the lord of another city, ten leagues 
distant from that of Izzucan, on the frontier of Mexico. 
There came also people from eight of the towns of the 
province of Coastoaca. ^ This is one of those mentioned 
in previous chapters, where the Spaniards, whom I had 
sent to seek gold in the provinces of Zuzula^ and Tama- 
zula^ (for they joined each other) had said that there 
because he was a bastard. Thus it was settled, and in 

> Oaxaca. * ZozoUa. ^ TamazoUan. 

3i8 Letters of Cortes 

were very great towns and houses, well built of the best 
masonry, such as we had not seen in any of these parts. 
This province of G^astoaca is forty leagues from that 
of Izzucan. The natives of the said eight towns offered 
themselves as vassals of Your Highness, and said that 
four others in the same province would come very soon. 
They asked me to excuse them if they had not dared to 
do so before for fear of the Culuans, but said that they 
never had taken up arms against me, nor had they par- 
ticipated in the killing of any Spaniards, and that always 
since offering themselves to the service of Your Highness 
they had been good and loyal subjects in their hearts, 
but had not dared to manifest it out of fear of the Culuans. 
Thus Your Highness may be very sure that. Our Lord 
favouring Your Royal good fortune, we shall within a 
short time regain what was lost, or the greater part of it ; 
because every day many provinces and cities, who before 
were subject to Montezuma, come to offer themselves 
as vassals of Your Majesty; for they see that those who 
do so are well received and treated by me, and that those 
who do othen\'ise are destroyed one after another. 

From prisoners taken in the city of Guacachula, es- 
pecially from that wounded man, I learned very fully 
Montezu- ^bout the affairs of the capital of Temixtitan, 
ma's and how, after the death of Montezuma, 

Successor g^ brother of his, lord of the city of Izta- 
palapa, called Cuetravacin, ^ had succeeded to the 
lordship, because the son of Montezuma, who should 

' After the death of Montezuma, Cuitlahuaczin of Iztapalapan, 
who had been in chief command of the rising against the Spaniards, 
assumed the chieftainship and three months later (Aztec calendar) 
he was appointed emperor. He married Montezuma's daughter, the 
Princess Tecuichpo. His coronation was celebrated with the cus- 
tomary solemnities, the prisoners taken on the Sorrowful Night, both 
Spaniards and Tlascalans, serving as victims for the sacrifices. The 
newly elected sovereign had to cope with a situation bristling with 
difiSculties — dissensions within, insubordination in the tributary prov- 
inces, the enemy without, and finally and most terrible of all, the 

Second Letter 319 

have inherited the sovereignty was killed at the bridges 
and of his two other living sons one is said to be 
mad, and the other palsied. They said that for these 
reasons and because he had made war against us, the 
brother had inherited, and was regarded as a very valiant 
and prudent man. I likewise learned how they were 
fortifying, not only the city, but other places in the do- 
minion, and how they were preparing walls, barricades, 
trenches, and all kinds of arms; and I learned especially 
that they were making long lances, like pikes, for the 
horses, and we have even seen some of these with which 
they were fighting in the province of Tepeaca, and in the 
hamlets and buildings where the Culuans were quartered 
at Guacachula, we likewise found many of them. I 
learned many other things which I omit in order not to 
weary Your Highness. 

small-pox, which raged throughout the country. To this dread pest, 
called by the Aztecs, Teozahuatl — Cuitlahuac fell a victim, and after a 
brief reign of eighty days, died on Nov. 25, 1520. During this period 
he had exerted every effort to unite all the forces of Mexico against 
the common enemy, sending embassies to friends and foes alike, urging 
that old differences be buried for the moment, and that all should make 
common cause to expel or destroy the strangers. He found a supporter 
in Xicotencatl, who, like himself had never believed in the semi-divine 
character of the teules, or gods as the Spaniards were commonly 
termed, but had from the first distrusted them, and counselled their 
destruction. Maxixcatzin withstood Xicotencatl in the Tlascalan 
Senate when the embassy from Mexico appeared proposing an 
alliance; in the acrimonious dispute which ensued, the old Senator 
struck the young General, and knocked him down the steps of the 
rostrum. Maxixcatzin prevailed over the divided opinions, and the 
ambassadors withdrew hurriedly to report their failure to their sove- 
reign. Cortes was informed of these negotiations, and visited Maxix- 
catzin to thank him for holding the Republic to the Spanish Alliance. 
As will be seen in a note to the Third Letter, Xicotencatl' s sentiments 
towards the Spaniards never changed. His foresight was keener than 
that of his countrymen, and he discerned that the white men were 
far more formidable enemies than the Mexicans, but the lust for 
present revenge prevailed over considerations of future independence. 
Xicotencatl was unsupported, and, in the end, he paid with his life the 
price of his invincible aversion. 

320 Letters of Cortes 

I sent four ships to the island of Hispaniola, that they 
might return quickly with horses and people for our 
assistance; and I likewise sent to buy four others, so that 
they might bring from the island of Hispaniola, and the 
city of San Domingo, horses and horsemen, bows, and 
powder, because this is what we most need in these parts. 
Foot soldiers armed with shields are of little service, 
on account of the great number of people, and their 
having so great and such strong cities and forts. I there- 
fore wrote to the licentiate Rodrigo de Figueroa, and to 
Your Highness's officials in the said island, asking them 
to favour and assist me as much as possible, as it was of 
such importance to Your Highness's services, and the 
security of our lives, since, on the arrival of this help, 
I intended to return against the capital and its country; 
and I believe, as I have already told Your Majesty, 
that it will again in a short time return to the condition 
in which I had it before, and that the past losses will 
be made good. Meanwhile, I am engaged in building 
twelve brigantines to launch on the lake, and already 
they are making the decking and other parts of them, 
because they have to be carried overland, so that on their 
arrival they may be joined and completed in a short 
time. Nails are also being made for them, and the 
pitch, sails, tow, oars, and other things, which are neces- 
sary are being got ready. I assure Your Majesty that, 
until I achieve this end, I shall take no rest, nor shall I 
cease to strive in every possible way and manner for it, 
disregarding all the danger, and trouble, and cost, which 
may come upon me. 

Two or three days ago, I learnt by a letter from my 
lieutenant at Vera Cruz, that a small caravel had ar- 
rived in that port with about thirty seamen and landsmen, 
who said they were seeking the people whom Francisco 
de Garay had sent to this country. Of these latter I 
have written to Your Majesty that they arrived in such 

Second Letter 321 

want of provisions that, if they had not found succour 
there, they would have died from hunger and thirst. I 
learned from them how they had reached the river 
Panuco, remaining anchored there thirty days without 
seeing any people along all the river or in the country, 
from which it is believed that that country has been 
deserted on account of what had happened there. The 
people of the said caravel likewise said that two or three 
other ships of the said Francisco de Garay would follow 
immediately behind them with people and horses, and 
that they believed they had already passed down the 
coast. It seemed to me, then, that it was not in com- 
pliance with Your Highness's service that these ships 
and people should be lost through going in ignorance of 
the affairs of the country, as the natives might do them 
more harm than they had the first ones. The said 
caravel shoiild be sent to seek those two ships, in order 
to notify them of what had happened, and to bring them 
to the port of the said city, where the captain sent by 
Francisco de Garay was waiting for them. And God 
grant that he finds them in time before they go ashore, 
because, as the natives were already on the look-out, 
and the Spaniards were ignorant, I fear they may sustain 
much harm, and that it would not serve God Our Lord 
and Your Highness, for it would enrage those dogs [the 
Indians] all the more, and inspire them with more courage 
and daring against those who might come hereafter. 

I said in one of the preceding chapters, that I had 
learned that, after the death of Montezuma, his brother, 
called Cuetravacin, who had been raised as Montezu- 
lord, was preparing many kinds of arms, and ma's 

fortifying himself in the capital, and in other Successor 
cities near the lake. And a short time since, I 
have likewise learned that the said Cuetravacin has 
sent his messengers to aU the countries, provinces, 
cities, subject to the said sovereignty, to promise 

VOL. I 21 

322 Letters of Cortes 

his vassals that he has graciously remitted during one 
year all tributes and taxes which they are obliged to 
pay him, on condition that they would use every means 
to make a very cruel war on all Christians, either killing 
them or expelling them from the country; and that they 
were to do in like manner to all natives who were our 
friends or allies. Although I have trust in Our Lord that 
they will not be able to carry out their intention, I am 
in extreme need of help and aid, because the Indians, 
our friends, come daily from many cities, towns, and 
hamlets, to ask for help against their enemies and ours, 
the Culuans, who make war on them because they hold to 
our friendship and alliance, and I am not able to help 
everyi\'here as I would wish. But, as I say, may it please 
Our Lord to augment our few forces, and to send, not 
only His own help, but also that which I have sent to 
ask from Hispaniola. 

From what I have seen and understood concerning the 
similarity between this country and Spain, in its fertility, 
its size, its climate, and in many other features of it, it 
seemed to me the most suitable name for this country 
would be New Spain of the Ocean Sea, and thus in the 
name of Your Majesty I have christened it. I humbly 
supplicate Your Highness to approve of this and order that 
it be so called. 

I have written to Your Majesty, although badly ex- 
pressed, the truth of all that has happened in these parts 
and whatever it was most necessary Your Highness 
should know, and, by my other letter which goes with 
this present, I send to supplicate Your Royal Excellency 
to send a trustworthy person to make an enquiry and 
investigation of everything, for the purpose of informing 
Your Sacred Majesty of all. In this dispatch I also 
again very humbly supplicate the same, for I shall con- 
sider it a very particular favour, as giving entire credit 
to what I write. 

Second Letter 323 

Very High and Most Excellent Prince, may God, Our 
Lord, preserve the life and the very royal person and the 
very powerful state of Your Sacred Majesty, and augment 
it for long time with increase of many greater kingdoms 
and dominions, according as your royal heart may desire. 
From the town of Segura de la Frontera, of this New 
Spain, on the 30th October, 1520. Your Sacred Ma- 
jesty's very humble servant and vassal, who kisses the 
very royal feet and hands of Your Highness. 

Fernan Cortes. 

NoTE.^ — After this, the news arrived on the first of the 
month of March past from the said New Spain, of how 
the Spaniards had taken by force the great city of Temix- 
titan, in which more Indians had perished than did Jews 
in the destruction of Jerusalem when it was taken by 
Vespasian, and in it there was likewise a greater number 
of people than in the said Holy City. They found little 
treasure because the natives had thrown and submerged 
it in the waters; they took only two hundred thousand 
dollars, and the Spaniards remained well fortified in the 
said city, which at present has about fifteen hundred 
foot soldiers, and five hundred horsemen, and they have 
more than one hundred thousand friendly natives in their 
camp. These are great and strange things, and it is 
without doubt another world, and the sole desire to see 
it causes envy to us who are outside its borders. The 
news which we hold to be worthy of belief is up to 
the beginning of April, 1522. This present letter of re- 
lation was printed in the very noble and very loyal city 
of Seville by Jacob Cromberger, a German, on the 8th of 
November, 1522. 

> This postscriptum was obviously not written by Cortes, but by 
some one who read his letter; it was added before the receipt of his 
third letter, and was printed with the first edition in 1522. 




With these few casual words, Cortes refers to the existence 
of one of the chief characters in the splendid drama of the conquest 
— his Indian mistress Marina, without whose aid the success of the 
Spaniards is hardly thinkable. He mentions her once again in his 
Fifth Letter, but she appears in his narrative only under the vague 
figure of "the interpreter whom I had with me." 

There are almost as many different accounts of Marina's birth 
and childhood as there were writers to compose them, but all agree 
that she was of noble lineage, which Herrera says was evident from her 
superior bearing and manners. 

Senor Garcia Icazbalceta in Note 37 to the second of the Dialogos 
de Cervantes, gives us a critical study of Marina. The conclusions of 
this learned writer admit the version given by Bemal Diaz, in spite 
of the fact that this contradicts those of his contemporaries. Las 
Casas and Gomara, the latter of whom must have had his information 
from his patron Cortes, himself. Clavigero adopted Bemal Diaz as his 
authority, as did also Solis. Prescott noticed the differences among the 
early writers, but refrained from pronouncing in favour of any one of 
them. All these authorities, however, were anterior to Garcia Icazbal- 
ceta. It would be impossible for any student of history to-day to 
neglect his valuable work in Mexican archives, or to ignore his con- 
clusions, which may be safely followed and especially in this instance, 
in which they are sustained on the narrative of Bemal Diaz. Orozco y 
Berra has also eliminated some of the conflicting statements concerning 
Marina by an ingenious dissertation on the habitual confusion of 
the spelling of Mexican names by the Spaniards, and particularly by 
those writers who, never having been in Mexico, were passably ignorant 
of Indian nomenclature and Mexican geography, and took their infor- 
mation second-hand, often from illiterate or inaccurate persons. 

Marina was the daughter of the lord of Painalla, in the province of 
Coatzocoalco. Her mother married a second time, and, upon the 
birth of a son, she agreed with her husband to dispose of her daughter, 
in order that the son might inherit their property. This plan was 
effected by giving the young girl to some Indians of Xicalango, and 
publishing her death, the body of a slave's child being substituted to 
deceive the people. The Xicalango Indians sold the girl to others in 


328 Letters of Cortes 

Tabasco, antl thus she came to be among the twenty slaves presented 
to Cortes by the cacique of that province. Marina, in the distribution 
of these women, fell to the share of Puertocarrero. When Jeronimo 
de Aguilar joined Cortes, it was found that he could speak to Marina 
in Maya, which closely resembled the language of Tabasco, and, as her 
mother tongue was the Mexican, it came about that, in treating with 
envoys from the interior and during the march through Tlascala and 
Cholula to the capital, Cortes spoke in Spanish to Aguilar who spoke in 
Maya to Marina who spoke with the Mexicans in their own tongue. 

Her family name was Tenepal, and her Indian name was Malinal, 
derived from Malinalli, which is the sign of the twelfth day of the 
Mexican month; thus her Christian name in baptism, which was 
Marina, was really derived from, or suggested by, her Indian name, and 
as the Indians could not pronounce the letter r there was practically 
no change of name, save that in her new and important position they 
gave her the tzin, which was a title of respect, and henceforth she was 
called Malintzin. The Spaniards corrupted this into Malinche. Cortes 
came to be universally known as Captain Malintzin or simply Maliu- 
tzin, and to thousands of Indians, he had no other name than that of 
this slave girl (Orozco y Berra, vol. iv., cap. v.). 

Dona Marina, as the Spaniards called her, was quick at learning 
Spanish, which her intimate relations with Cortes facilitated, or, as 
Prescott poetically puts it, "because it was the language of love." 
Perhaps it was on her side, but there is little evidence to show that it 
was on his. Marina was cherished because she was useful, not because 
she was beloved, and the circumstances forced her into intimate rela- 
tions with Cortes, which were also favoured by her beauty and her 
superior wit. Aussi hien celle-ci qu'une autre was doubtless his view 
of the sentimental side of his relations with her. 

After Puertocarrero 's departure with the despatches and treasure, 
Marina reverted definitely to Cortes. Once the expedition had left 
the coast provinces, she became more and more indispensable, as 
Aguilar spoke no Mexican and the Maya language was not intelligible 
to the Mexicans. As soon as she had sufficiently mastered Castilian 
to be able to dispense with Aguilar as an intermediary between herself 
and Cortes, her position became a dominant one and she held the fate 
of the Spaniards in her hand. But most of all was she supreme over 
her own people and dispensed peace or war at her pleasure; for she 
alone could shape the results of the negotiations and treaties between 
Cortes and the caciques. Thus, an unforeseen turn in Fortune's 
wheel raised this princess from the degradation of slavery into which 
an unnatural mother had delivered her, and landed her in the Span- 
iards' camp, where she became the mistress of a nation's destinies. 
She showed herself so able, that Bemal Diaz affirms that they all held 
her to be like no other woman on earth, and that they had never 
detected the smallest feminine weakness in her; she alone of all the 
women was saved from the tragedy of the Sorrowful Night, and she 

Appendix I. Second Letter 329 

saved herself. There is no way of knowing how faithfully and disin- 
terestedly she played her part of interpreter; certainly she gave herself 
absolutely to Cortes, and her devotion to the Spaniards never faltered, 
but who shall say that she also did justice in her presentation of the 
Indians' claims and interests in the negotiations she directed ? Author- 
ities differ as to the number of children born to Cortes and Dona 
Marina; the eldest son, Don Martin, afterwards became a ICnight of 
Santiago, and the existence of at least one daughter seems to be suffi- 
ciently certain. In October, 1524, Marina was married to Juan 
Xaramillo, described as an hildalgo. Bemal Diaz says that the bride- 
groom was ignorant of Marina's past, which makes one wonder where 
he came from, and Gomara's explanation that he was drunk at the 
time sounds more plausible. On the expedition to Yucatan there was 
a dramatic encounter between Dona Marina and her perfidious mother 
and the younger half-brother in whose interest she had been sacrificed. 
The recognition seems to have been instantaneous and mutual; the 
mother, fearing vengeance, threw herself at her daughter's feet, begging 
forgiveness, which was accorded, with the philosophic assurance that 
when she had so treated her child, she did not know what she was 
doing (as indeed it appeared), and that she thanked God for the boon 
of the Christian religion and the happiness of having given her master 
a son and the joy of possessing an excellent husband in Juan Xara- 
millo. Dona Marina's Christian morality betrayed it's recent adop- 
tion and weak growth at this point. She loaded her relatives with 
gifts and sent them home rejoicing. Bemal Diaz was reminded by 
this incident of the meeting between Joseph and his brethren in Egypt. 
Xaramillo became an alcalde in Mexico, and in 1528 a grant of land 
was given to him and his wife near Chapultepec. Prescott describes 
Marina as returning to her native place, where an estate was given her, 
but Icazbalceta says she ended her days in Mexico, rich and respected ; 
Orozco y Berra concedes that she was rich, but doubts that she was 
respected. A curious painting represents Cortes with Marina standing 
beside him at the execution of a Cholulan servant of Andres de Tapia, 
who was condemned to be torn to pieces by fierce dogs; she piously 
holds a rosary in her hand as she watches the brutal spectacle, 
which took place in 1537. Dona Marina still lived therefore in 1537, 
but the date of her death is not recorded (Oviedo, Hist. Gen. y Nat. 
lib. xxxiii., cap. i.; Las Casas, Hist, de las Indians, lib. iii., cap. cxxi. ; 
Clavigero, tom. iii., [p. 12; Bernal Diaz, cap. xxxvii., Garcia Icaz- 
balceta, Dialogos de Cervantes; Orozco y Berra, vol. iv., cap. v.). 



The migratory period of the Aztecs in the valley of Andhuac came to 
its close with the foundation of Mexico-Tenochtitlan in 1325. The 
name Mexico signifies habitation of the god of war, Mexitli — otherwise 
known as Huitzilopochtli. The name Tenochtitlan signifies a cactus 
on a rock and was given to the new city because the choice of the site 
was decided by the augurs beholding, perched upon a cactus plant 
which grew on a rock, an eagle with a serpent in its talons. The em- 
blem of the cactus and the eagle holding a serpent became the national 
standard of Mexico, and is displayed in the coat of arms of the present 

The two islands of Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco stood in the salt 
waters of the lake of Texcoco, separated from one another by a narrow 
channel of water, and in the beginning, Tlatelolco had its separate chief ; 
but in the reign of Axayacatl, the last king of Tlatelolco, called Moqui- 
huiz, was overthrown, and the islands afterwards became united by 
bridges and formed one city, with a single ruler. The city was joined 
to the main land by three great causeways, so solidly built of earth 
and stone, and having draw-bridges to span the canals which crossed 
them, as to excite the admiration of the Spaniards. The northern 
causeway, from the Tlatelolco quarter, extended for three miles to 
Tepejaca, where stands the present shrine of Guadaloupe ; the causeway 
reaching to Tlacopan (Tacuba) was two miles long, and the southern 
road, by which the Spaniards entered, extended for seven miles to Itz- 
tapalapan, with a division at the small fortress of Xoloc, where one 
branch diverged to Coyohuacan and hence caused Cortes to mention 
four causeways, which strictly speaking was correct. Robertson er- 
roneously speaks of a causeway leading to Texcoco. While the width 
of these splendid roads varied, Clavigero says that all were wide enough 
for ten horsemen to ride abreast (vol. iii., lib. ix.). To the minute 
description of the city given in the letter of Cortes, it seems unneces- 
sary to add anything; he says nothing, however, about the number of 
inhabitants, which all the earlier authorities practically agree in 
numbering at 60,000 households — by an obvious error the Anony- 
mous Conqueror speaks of 60,000 people, which should, of course, be 
families. Zuazo, Gomara, Motolinia, Peter Martyr, Clavigero, and 
others, give this estimate, hence it may be safely stated, that the 


Appendix II. Second Letter 331 

city's population was not less than 300,000 souls; though Orozco y 
Berra, while admitting these figures, observes that considering the 
actual area and the large spaces occupied by palaces and public build- 
ings, the people must have been a good deal crowded. 

Very contradictory appreciations of the beauty of the Aztec capital, 
the grandeur of its buildings, and the merit of its architecture, have 
been given by different writers. Prescott's marvellous picture of the 
ancient city is familiar to all students of Mexican history, and hardly 
less well known and rivalling the American historian's delightful 
pages, are the chapters of Sir Arthur Helps, praised by Ruskin for 
their "beautiful quiet English," in which he compares Mexico to 
Thebes, Nineveh, and Babylon, among the great cities of antiquity, and 
to Constantinople, Venice, and Granada, among those of modem times, 
not hesitating to declare that it was "at that time the fairest in the 
world and has never since been equalled " (Hernan. Cortes, p. 108). 
The distinguished Mexican scholar Senor Alaman {Disertaciones, tom. 
i., p. 184) expresses his conviction that the city of Mexico contained 
no buildings of beauty or merit; that, aside from the royal palaces, the 
rest of the houses were adobe huts, amongst which rose the squat, 
truncated pyramids of the temples, unlovely to behold, decorated 
with rude sculptures of serpents and other horrible figures, and having 
heaps of human skulls piled in their court yards. He sustains this 
dreary appreciation by the argument that there would otherwise 
have remained some fragments of former architectural magnificence, 
whereas there is absolutely nothing. These eminent writers seem un- 
willing to allow that Tenochtitlan may have been a wonderfully beauti- 
ful city and at the same time have possessed few imposing buildings and 
no remarkable architecture. The descriptions of Mr. Prescott and Sir 
Arthur Helps are masterpieces of word-painting which charm us, but 
they are based upon early descriptions in which impeachable importance 
is given to architectural features of the city. It is, as Senor Alaman 
remarks, incredible that not a fragment of column or capital, statue or 
architrave should have been saved to attest the existence of great archi- 
tectural monuments, even though 150,000 men were diligently engaged 
for two months in destroying the buildings, filling up canals with the 
debris and that finally, when the city came to be rebuilt, many idols 
and other larger fragments of temples were used in the foundations of 
the cathedral, which rose on the site of the great teocalli. Palaces, such 
as Montezuma's is described by the Spaniards, may be vast in extent, 
with beautiful courts, fountains, gardens, and audience halls, they 
may be luxurious and filled with curious and beautiful objects, but 
they add little to the picturesque or imposing appearance of a capital ; 
the temples were sufficiently numerous, but none save the great temple 
seem to have been lofty, and even the principal teocalli had but 114 
steps, so that its heighth was only remarkable by comparison with 
the great stretch of low flat-roofed houses about it. Cortes describes 
the destruction of the city, day by day, which he sincerely deplored as 

33^ Letters of Cortes 

necessary to subdue it, but he does not mention any one building 
which he sought to save, as he must infallibly have done, had he been 
burning an Alhambra or a Doge's Palace or been forced to blow up a 
Santa Sophia. It seems impossible that any one should seriously pre- 
tend that the waters of Texcoco's lake mirrored such fa9ades as are 
reflected in the canals of Venice, or that there was a Rialto among 
the bridges, so hotly contested by the Spaniards. Orozco y Berra 
wisely reproves the comparison which Alaman draws between Mexico 
and Rome as notoriously misplaced. But, between the dazzling word 
pictures of Prescott and Helps on the one hand, and on the other 
Alaman's depressing sketch of a squalid town of hovels, inhabited by 
bloodthirsty cannibals, there is still room for a beautiful city in which 
dwelt a sovereign, amidst surroundings of interesting splendour. 

Even without conscious intention to mislead, it was inevitable that 
the Spaniards should fall into exaggeration in describing the city of 
Mexico ; first, because they necessarily used the same terms to portray 
what they saw as they would have used in describing Rome, Paris, 
or Constantinople ; second, because the contrast between such Indian 
towns as they had seen and the capital was undoubtedly very great, 
and their long years of rough life, perilous voyages, and the absence at 
times even of shelter from the elements, made any large town with 
some system of order, with houses having court-yards, gardens and 
embroidered hangings, seem worthy to be compared with great cities 
elsewhere seen and dimly remembered ; and lastly because Mexico was 
unquestionably a very beautiful city. It could hardly have been 
otherwise in such a situation, and the Spaniards, not stopping to 
analyse wherein its charms lay, fell into the easy error of attributing 
them to architectural excellence and grandeur, which were really 

Solis adopts the conquerors' style, without having their excuse 
and, were he writing of the Courts of Leo X., or Louis XIV., he could 
hardly use other language than he does in describing Montezuma 
and his household. 

The very ignorance and naiveU of the conquerors are good warrants 
for the truth of much that they wrote, for as they were illiterate men 
(even Cortes had but a scanty store of learning, gathered during his 
brief course of two careless years at Salamanca) without sufficient 
knowledge to invent descriptions of the Mexican laws, customs, religion, 
and institutions, the facts which they state, and in which they agree, 
are indubitable. The Aztec Empire possessed some highly developed 
institutions; to mention but one, there was the system of couriers or 
the post, which kept up daily and rapid communication between the 
capital and the provinces, and that at a time when no country in 
Europe possessed anything equalling it. 

Their religion was established with a regular hierarchy, and a calen- 
dar of festivals, which were observed with a really admirable ritual, 
marred only by the barbarity of certain rites ; their deities were gloomy 

Appendix II. Second Letter 333 

and ferocious, fear was the motive of worship, human sacrifice the 
only means of placating the gods, and thus religion, which should 
soften and humanise manners and elevate character, was engulfed in a 
dreadful superstition, which held the nation in a state of permanent 
degradation, with the result that the most civilised amongst the 
Indians of North America were at the same time the most bar- 
barous. The perfect ordering of this system impressed the Spaniards, 
while its awful rites horrified them. 

Their state was well ordered, and, in many respects, governed ac- 
cording to wise and enlightened standards, and that their civilisation 
was of no mean order is proven by the following factors in it : 

I. The rights of private property were recognised and respected ; its 

transfer was effected by sale or inheritance. 

II. All free men were land owners, either by absolute possession or by 

usufruct derived from holding some public office in the state, 
and these composed the nobility : others held land in commun- 
ity, parcels being allotted to a given number of families, 
whose members worked them in common and shared their 
produce equitably. 

III. Taxes were levied according to an established system and were 

paid in kind, thus filling the government store-houses with 
vast accumulations of all the products of the Empire. 

IV. Justice was administered by regularly appointed judges, who 

interpreted the laws and exercised jurisdiction in different 

V. Markets were held as Cortes describes. 

VI. The streets were regularly cleaned, lighted by fires at night, 

and patrolled by police; public sanitary arrangements were 
provided, and the city was probably more spacious, cleaner, 
and healthier than any European towns of that time. 

VII. Public charity provided hospitals for the sick and aged. 

VIII. Separate arts and trades flourished, and the metal-workers, 

lapidaries, weavers, etc., learned their trades by a regular 
system of instruction and apprenticeship pretty much as 
in the guilds of Europe. 

IX. The great public-works, such as the causeways, aqueducts, 

canals with locks, and bridges, were admirably constructed, 
and, in the neighbourhood of the capital at least, were 

X. There was a fair knowledge of the medicinal and curative pro- 

perties of herbs, barks, roots, and plants, though, if the 
medicine men were skilled in the use of poisons, it seems 
strange that they did not rid themselves of the hungry invad- 
ers at some of the feasts which were constantly offered them. 

XI. In the arts, the lapidaries, feather-workers, and silversmiths 

produced the best work. Mexican paintings, judged as works 
of art, are crude and primitive enough, but their real value 

334 Letter of Cortes. 

and interest lie in the fact that they are chronicles in pic- 
ture uritiug, of which, unfortunately, too few have been pre- 
served; ideas were rarely and imperfectly represented by this 
method, which was only serviceable for recording material 
facts. Music was the least developed of all the arts. 

XII. Their solar system was more correct than that of the Greeks 

and Romans. The year was divided into eighteen months, 
of twenty days each, with five complementary days added, 
which were holidays, but were considered unlucky, especially 
as birthdays. For full information on the Mexican calendar, 
solar system, and astronomical science, the student is re- 
ferred to Orozco y Berra. Hist. Antiqua, lib. iv., where these 
subjects are lucidly explained. 

XIII. There we were regularly graduated social classes, the lowest 

being composed of peasant-serfs called Mayeques who were 

bound to the land ; above them came ascending grades until 

we reach the Emperor at the top of all. 

Three features characteristic of the feudal system everywhere 
are found: A. An overlord or Emperor, supreme in the cen- 
tral government, whose standard all followed in war and whose 
authority and person were regarded as semi-divine. B. Prac- 
tically independent nobles or chiefs of tribes, levying their own 
taxes holding peoples and cities in subjection, transmitting 
their titles by right of inheritance and ready to contend with 
the Emperor himself on questions of etiquette, and precedence. 
Many of these were his kinsmen and all were allied amongst 
themselves, thus forming an aristocracy of rank and power. 
C. A people reduced to practical serfage. 

Sumptuary laws prescribed the dress of the diflEerent orders, 
and the regulations governing court dress for different occasions 
were rigidly enforced; all removed their sandals in the emperor's 
presence, and even the greatest nobles covered their ornaments 
with a plain mantle when they appeared before him. The Aztec 
language was extremely polite and contained not only titles, 
but many ceremonious phrases of respect and expressions of 
courtesy and deference. 

The crown descended in the same family, but a council of six 
electors, chosen during the lifetime of the sovereign, met im- 
mediately after his death and elected a successor from among 
the eligible princes of the royal family. 
Alongside these indications of an advanced civilisation are found 
several others which show a nation still in its infancy: 

I. They did not know the use of wax or oil for lighting purpose. 

II. They used no milk. 

III. They had no coinage : cacao nuts were commonly used as a stand- 

ard of value and also gold dust put up in quills, but usually 

Appendix II. Second Letter 335 

commodities were exchanged. Sahagun mentions a sort of 
coin which the Mexicans called quahtli or eagle, but he 
does not describe it. Montezuma paid his losses at play 
with the Spaniards in chips of gold, each of the value of fifty 
ducats; this piece was called tejuelo, but it does not cer- 
tainly appear to have been a coin. 

IV. There was no system of phonetic writing. 

V. They kept no domestic animals save rabbits, chickens, and little 

dogs, all of which they ate ; and they had no beasts of burden. 

VI. Their only cereal was maize. 

VII. They knew neither iron, nor tin, nor lead, though the moun- 

tains were full of them, and their only hard metal was copper. 

Even from the summary and incomplete indications here given, it is 
seen that the Aztec state possessed many excellent institutions and 
elements of an advanced civilisation, and, despite the co-existence of 
certain limitations which have led some to doubt the development 
claimed for them, our interest in the origin and history of the myste- 
rious races of Andhuac is stimulated to wonder and admiration for what 
we do know of their empire, and to boundless regret for the disap- 
pearance of all, save the few vestiges which remain to excite a curiosity 
they are inadequate to appease. 

It is not required to endow Mexico with "the glory that was 
Greece or the grandeur that was Rome " in order to admit that it was 


The different tribes or nations of An^huac came, according to their 
several traditions, from the north-west, in a series of migrations, 
but of their original starting point they preserved no clear record. 
M. de Guigne presents proofs to show that the Chinese visited Mexico 
as early as 458 a.d.; Horn (de originibus Americanis, 1699), Scherer 
(Recherches Hist.), Humboldt (Essai Polit.) and other authorities, 
without a dissentient voice, assign an Asiatic origin to the Toltecs and 
other Mexican peoples. That Mexico received settlers from other 
parts of the world seems also certain. Aristotle {De Admirandis in 
natura) relates that Carthaginian sailors passed the Pillars of Hercules, 
and, after sailing sixty days to the west, reached a beautiful and fertile 
country, and that so many began to go thither that the Senate of 
Carthage passed a law suppressing such emigration, to prevent the 
depopulation of the city. The theory of the submerged Atlantis, 
and the arguments on which it rests, are too well known to require 

The efforts to graft Mexican civilisation on to an Asiatic or African 
stock have not been entirely successful, for, while there tindoubtedly 
exist points of striking similarity, these seem to be counterbalanced by 
still more important divergencies. The paucity of positive data or even 
coherent traditions has left a wide field open to speculation, of which 
many learned and ingenious seekers have availed themselves to the 
fullest extent, but without achieving results commensurate with their 
labours. Without attempting a thorough search into the racial origin 
of the tribes which Cortes found in the valley of Mexico, it may be 
briefly stated that the best evidence before us points to Yucatan as 
the centre of the highest American civilisation, from whence a know- 
ledge of law, arts, and manufactures, and the influence of an organised 
religious system, spread northwards. The splendid ruins of Yucatan and 
Central America attest the existence of a race of people, which, what- 
ever its origin, was isolated from European and Asiatic influence alike 
since an epoch which it is impossible to fix, but which was certainly 
very remote. This race — the Maya — possessed a civilisation, sui 
generis, and entirely unique on the North American continent, the 
focus of which had already shifted to the high valley of Mexico long 
before the Spaniards first visited the country in the sixteenth century 


Appendix III. Second Letter 337 

leaving the ancient cities of Uxmal, Palenque, Utatlan, and the others 
in the southern region, in ruins. What devastating influences pro- 
duced this movement in an entire people is not known, and the length 
of time occupied by it, is problematical, though it must have extended 
over centuries, ebbing and flowing intermittently. The conflicting 
traditions as to the direction from which tribes, law-givers, and priests 
arrived in Andhuac are doubtless owing to distinct movements at 
different times of the southern peoples in their wandering search for 
a new and permanent abiding place. These early migrations from 
south to north, were succeeded during the period commonly termed 
the Middle Ages, by a counter movement, and the descendants of the 
first Maya emigrants began to return southwards, conquering or ab- 
sorbing the different peoples they encountered. Although some of the 
peoples had preserved much of the culture bequeathed them by their 
forefathers, there was no uniform civilisation existing among them, 
save in the case of the Toltecs, who seem still to have been in the full 
enjoyment of their Maya heritage. 

The Toltecs left their country, called Huehuetlalpallan, in the vague 
north-west, in the year 554 a.d., and, after one hundred and four years 
of migratory life, they founded the city of ToUantzinco in 648, whence 
they again moved in 667 to Tula, or ToUan, from which date, their 
monarchy, which lasted three hundred and eighty-four years, is 
reckoned (Clavigero, vol. iv.). According to Torquemada, the Chi- 
chimecas followed within nine years after the extinction of the Toltec 
sovereignty, but Clavigero's calculation shows the improbability 
of this, for several reasons, the most convincing of which is the in- 
credible chronology of their kings. Torquemada says that Xolotl 
reigned 113 years, his son lived to be 170, and his grandson 104 
years old, while another king, Tezozomoc reigned 180 years! It is 
obvious that the Chichimeca period must either be shortened, or the 
number of kings increased. After the Chichimecas came the six 
tribes of Tlascala, Xochimilco, Acolhua (Texcoco), Tepanec, Chalco, 
and Tlahuichco, closely followed by the Colhuans or Mexicans, who hrst 
arrived at Tula in 1196, and, after several shorter migrations, finally 
founded Mexico-Tenochtitlan in 1325, as is related inAppendix II. of 
this letter. The last tribe to come was that of the Otomies in 1420. 
Boturini believed that the tribes of Xicalango and the Olemchs ante- 
dated the Toltecs, but says that no records or picture-writings explain- 
ing their origin were discoverable in his time. From the foundation 
of Mexico in 1325, the form of government was aristocratic till 1352, 
when according to Torquemada's interpretation of their picture- 
writings, the first King Acamapatzin, eighth predecessor of Montezuma 
II., was elected, and reigned for thirty-seven years. 

The Aztec civilisation, which attained its highest development in Ten- 
ochtitlan and Texcoco, never reached the level of the Maya culture, nor 
did its cities contain any such admirable buildings as those whose ruins 
still delight and mystify the traveller in Yucatan and Central America. 

VOL. I.— 21 

338 Letters of Cortes 

Outside its few centres of learning and luxury, the numerous tribes 
under Montezuma's rule were dwellers in caves, living by the chase and 
in no way sharing in the benefits of the Aztec polity. In morals and 
manners, the Aztecs were inferior to the Toltecs, and though they 
adopted and continued the civilisation of their predecessors, they were 
devoid of their intellectual and artistic qualities, and turned their 
attention more to war and commerce as the surest means for riveting 
their supremacy on their neighbours. When Cortes arrived, Texcoco 
and Tlacopan, though still calling themselves independent, and ruled 
by sovereigns who held themselves co-equal with Montezuma, were 
rapidly sinking into a condition of vassalage. The Aztec religion 
was likewise of a militant order; it was polytheistic and readily 
admitted the gods of conquered or allied nations into its pantheon. 
Upon the milder cult of the older religious systems they had adopted^ 
these devotees of the war-god speedily grafted their own horrible 
practices of human sacrifices, which augmented in number and ferocity 
until the temples became veritable chamel houses. With such a bar- 
barous religious system draining their ver^' life's blood, and a relentless 
despotism daily encroaching on their liberties, it is small wonder that 
Cortes was hailed as a liberator by the subject peoples of Mexico. 

In the third chapter of his Historia Antigua, Don Manuel Orozco 
y Berra examines what he terms the two schools, the religious 
and the philosophical, whose teachings concerning the origin and 
early history of the Mexicans are based upon the interpretation of 
the ancient and authentic Mexican painting, now preserved in the 
National Museum in Mexico, and %vhich came into the possession of the 
historian Ixtlilxochitl from his royal ancestors of Texcoco. The religious 
reading of this unique Chronicle (it is always Orozco y Berra who is my 
authority) sought to harmonise its chronology, and certain primitive 
events in the national history, with the biblical story, and all the early 
writers of this school, Carlos de Siguenza, Gemelli Careri, Clavigero, 
Veytia, and others, found in it an account of the creation, the flood, 
the tower of Babel, the dispersion of the nations, and other incidents of 
the mosaic records. 

The philosophical school, of which Humboldt was the chief, following 
other lines, arrived, however, at a similar result, and connected the 
foundation of Mexico with the cessation of the deluge, and thus the 
problem of the origin of American races and animals was solved. 

Don Fernando Ramirez, some time Curator of the Mexican National 
Museum, by showing the interpretation of both these schools to be mere 
illusions, demolished their conclusions, and interpreted the picture 
as merely representing the wanderings of the Mexicans in the valley 
itself, covering an area of about nine miles and a period of hardly more 
than 443 years, calculating from 1325 back to 882, a.d., the earliest 
chronological sign in the painting; while the water represented, is not 
the flood of but the neighbouring lake of Chalco. 

The complex question of the relation in which the Maya and Toltec 

Appendix III. Second Letter 339 

civilisations stood to one another has not yet found a generally ac- 
cepted solution. Working in the light which anthropology, ethnology, 
archeology, and kindred modem sciences afiEord, many valuable 
facts have been recently discovered and the investigations still pro- 
ceeding, yearly contribute highly specialised knowledge to the sum 
of what the early Spanish writers amassed but failed to scientifically 
classify. But with all this, the path through the American historical 
labyrinth remains a tortuous one : whether the Toltecs preceded the 
Mayas and brought into Yucatan the high civilisation of which noble 
remains attest the existence, or whether this civilisation was of Maya 
origin and afterwards spread towards the north, influencing the Toltecs, 
are questions on which various opinions are held by modern investi- 
gators. I incline to accept the latter theory, but while such learned 
authorities are still at variance, it were presumption for a mere student 
of early American history to present conclusions. 

In this brief summary of such a large subject, I have sought to 
furnish the general reader with an intelligible explanation of the 
origins and history of the civilisation which Cortes beheld when 
first he visited Mexico. 


Montezuma here refers to Quetzalcoatl who figures, under different 
names in different times and places, as a mortal man, as a deified legis- 
lator, and as a primitive divinity, so that it is difficult to separate the 
mythical in his history from the real. He was known in Yucatan 
under the name of Ktiktilcan, the meaning of which is identical with 
Questzalli and Cohuatl — a plumed serpent. 

Quetzalcoatl was a Toltec deity, and was venerated as the god of the 
air, especially identified with the east wind, which brought the fertilising 
rains. As the teachings and prophecies attributed to him potently influ- 
enced the attitude of the Mexicans towards the Spaniards, on their 
arrival in the country, it is necessary to consider both his mythical and 
historical character. In the native mythology, Quetzalcoatl personified 
the principle of good in contradistinction to the principle of evil, under 
the figure of Tezcatlipoca. The story of his residence among the 
peoples of Anahuac relates that he arrived at Tollan (Tula) the capital 
of the Toltecs, as chief of a band of strangers, from unknown parts, 
and that he was well received by the natives to whom he taught 
the arts of agriculture, metal working, architecture, and mechanics. 
He introduced also the new religious virtues of chastity, trust in one 
God, the love of peace, and the practice of charity and penance. He 
also brought the Toltec calendar to the state of perfection in which 
it was found amongst the Aztecs. He wore a white tunic on which 
were black or red crosses, which sounds something like a pallium. 
He was large of person, white faced, and wore his black hair and 
beard long. Exercising the high priesthood, he initiated the golden 
age of the Toltecs, during which the cotton grew in various colours, 
red, blue, orange, and purple, maize crops were over-abundant, the 
canes grew as large round as tree trunks, and pumpkins so big that a 
man's arms could not encircle one ; nobody was ever hungry, animals 
were all tame, and the birds sang wonderfully. Sahagun catalogues 
him as the eighth king of the Toltecs. This halcyon period was brought 
to an end by the machinations of the evil spirit Tezcatlipoca who 
descended to earth on a spider's web, and, taking the form of a vener- 
able sage, tempted, Quetzalcoatl beyond his strength, and made 
him drunk on pulque, during which orgies the god violated his 
vows of chastity. This fall shook the faith of his people and the 


Appendix IV. Second Letter 341 

legend recounts further, that, in a war brought on by the same 
evil-spirit, the Toltecs were worsted. A universal famine followed 
upon the war, only to be succeeded by a terrible pestilence. Signs and 
portents foretold the destruction of the race, and Quetzalcoatl burned 
his house, buried his treasures in a secret place, and, despite the 
opposition of his adherents, left, called as he declared, by his master, 
to the mystic land of Tlapallan. His progress through the country 
was attended by prodigies and miracles until he reached Cholula, 
where he rested for twenty years, teaching the people, and pontificating 
in their great temple. But the enemy, hearing of this, prepared again 
to make war on the friends of Quetzalcoatl, who, to prevent this disas- 
ter, left with four disciples for the sea-coast. Here according to some 
versions, the waves parted, allowing him to pass, and according to 
others, he made himself a raft of serpents, and, spreading his mantle 
for a sail, was wafted away to the unknown east. Another legend 
describes him as causing his funeral pyre to be erected, from which 
his heart ascended into the skies, where it figures as the planet 

The belief in his prophecy, that he or his representatives would one 
day return to re-establish and render triumphant his religious teach- 
ings, was wide-spread, and furnishes something of a parallel to the 
Messianic hope prevalent amongst the Jews, or to the expectation of 
a second visible coming of Christ on which the early Christians 
counted. He was to return as an avenger, and hence his coming was 
dreaded by the Aztecs, who believed in it so firmly that they carried 
on a cult to propitiate him, though their religious practices did 
violence to his humaner teachings. 

The mysterious disappearance of the Toltecs from Anahuac may 
have been caused by the war, famine, and pestilence, of this legend, and 
the remnant of the people may have made an exodus with their priestly 
leader, leaving their city to the victors, and thus might be explained 
the sudden disappearance of that people. While the material benefits 
which Quetzalcoatl brought to the Toltecs and Cholulans were readily 
enough assimilated, it is probable that his religious teachings were not 
widely diffused or properly understood by the mass of the people, and 
after his departure they rapidly became mixed with ancient supersti- 
tions. Christian doctrines became denaturalised and blended with 
pagan traditions, thus losing their significance and efficacy. The 
original, national cult of the Toltecs reasserted itself with the addition 
of some beliefs and ritual forms. The passage through Mexico of a few 
Christians under the leadership of one possessing the superior character 
and intelligence attributed to Quetzalcoatl would suffice to introduce 
new moral and religious ideas, and produce great changes in the 
beliefs of the more cultivated people; for the indubitable unity of all 
mankind is essentially a unity of spirit, which draws together widely 
diversified races, whose physical features are dissimilar, and whose 
customs are alien to one another. 

342 Letters of Cortes 

Religion springs from an inherent aspiration, common to human 
nature everywhere, towards a knowledge of, and union with, what is 
divine and eternal. The development of this instinct carries humanity 
through the same phases according to laws governing religious evolu- 
tion, which are universal. Asia, Africa, and ancient Europe, have 
produced religious systems, each with its myths, rites of sacrifice, 
practices of penance, vigils, ceremonial observances, and consecrated 
priests, and the conclusion seems obvious that within human nature 
itself are found the springs from which these various independent 
systems — identical in their intention but so different in their moral 
value — originate. Man is potential to respond to the demands of his 
own being, whether in the physical and material, or in the moral and 
spiritual order, and, although the organisation and development 
observed in primitive religions many differ widely in different quarters 
of the globe, yet wherever mankind dwells in community, religious 
development stands on the same foundation and proceeds according 
to the same fundamental law. 

It need therefore in reality be no more astonishing that the Maya 
race and its descendants should have evolved a completely organised 
religious system, with an impressive ritual and a well-ordered calendar 
of ecclesiastical festivals, independently of any previous communica- 
tion with the old world, than that they were found to have a know- 
ledge of spinning, weaving, and metal working, and an effective system 
of civil government. All due allowance being made however for such 
considerations, the beliefs and practices of the Mexicans, which were 
so like Christian ones as to exclude the hypothesis of mere chance, were 
numerous and striking. 

Duran says of their triune idol that "being one," he is adored under 
three names, and having three names, he is adored as one almost as we 
believe in the most Holy Trinity. The persons of this trinity were Totec 
the lord of the majesty and fear; Xipe, the man despised and perse- 
cuted, and Tlatlauhquitezcatl, the mirror of splendour. Children were 
baptized between three and twelve years — signifying a new birth — 
by pouring on of water to cleanse them from the taint of inherited sin ; 
and auricular confession was practised for the forgiveness of sin com- 
mitted, penances being imposed. Even their revolting human sacri- 
fices seem to have been a degraded and materialised interpretation of 
our Lord's words of consecration when instituting the Eucharistic sacri- 
fice, for the flesh of the victim was eaten reverently, while sacramental 
words were pronounced calling it the jood of the soul and the very flesh 
of the god to whom the sacrifice was being offered. Holy water was 
used in many ceremonies, and especially at the crowning of kings. 
At stated times, a sort of passion play was performed in which a man 
was bound to a cross and killed with arrows. All these, and many 
other ceremonies bearing a striking analogy to Christian rites, much 
impressed the Spaniards, especially the friars, who composed a 
voluminous literature on the subject. Sometimes, indeed, theories were 

Appendix IV. Second Letter 343 

built up on rather frail foundations of fact, and conclusions were 
reached by undue straining of the imagination rather than by the exer- 
cise of critical research. The Indians frequently misled their new- 
teachers, giving such interpretation of their rites as they thought would 
be most acceptable, when not themselves ignorant of the real significance 
of their symbols and ceremonies; as, indeed, many poorly instructed 
Christians to-day could not explain intelligibly, to an inquiring visitor 
from Mars, the meaning of emblems and practices with which they are, 
nevertheless, familiar. But with every such allowance, there still 
remains a sufficient number of authenticated and perfectly understood 
doctrines and observances in the ancient Mexican cult, to argue con- 
vincingly their Christian origin; hence many writers have identified 
Quetzalcoatl with some unknown Christian missionary priest — possibly 
an Oriental bishop — while others have even thought he was the apostle 
St. Thomas. This startling opinion has not lacked eloquent defenders, 
but it is excluded froin serious consideration by the fact that St. 
Thomas lived in the first century, and Quetzalcoatl in the tenth, with- 
out adducing others which conclusively disprove it. 

The identity of Quetzalcoatl remains an unsolved mystery, and, 
after his departure, it became merged into that of mythical di- 
vinities, with a plumed serpent for his emblem. The confused 
notions which the Mexicans preserved concerning his life, his acts 
and miracles, and his final disappearance, and their interweaving 
of other legends of their more beneficent deities with his imperfectly 
transmitted doctrines, and the distorted facts in his personal history 
are no more extraordinary than many of the popular tales frotn lives 
of the saints, and other wonder stories which are cherished from gener- 
ation to generation by ignorant and imaginative people everywhere. 
Unless some heretofore undiscovered treasure house of lost records 
delivers the key to the early history of the Toltecs, there seems little 
hope that our imperfect knowledge concerning him will receive any 
important additions. The systematic destruction of the picture writ- 
ings of the ancient Mexicans, and particularly of everything connected 
with their religion, which was carried on for years with misguided zeal 
by the Spaniards, cut off the source from which fuller information 
might have been hoped. Much and very severe criticism has fallen 
upon the ecclesiastics — notably Bishop Zumarraga — by whom this sad 
destruction was accomplished, and the not unnatural vexation, with 
which historians view what now seems to have been a work of ignorant 
and unnecessary fanaticism, has lent undue vehemence to the blame 
assigned to these well-intentioned iconoclasts. The destruction is un- 
doubtedly most regrettable, but, in strict justice, it must be admitted 
that the extent of the loss which American history sustained is 
entirely problematical, for we do not certainly know that the destroyed 
records contained anything which has not been learned from others 
which were preserved, and from the Indians themselves at the time of 
the conquest. On the other hand our debt to the friars is very great, 

344 Letters of Cortes 

for to tlu'm alone is it owing that anything at all survived the Spanish 
conquest. They alone, amidst the hordes of gold-greedy colonists 
who scoured the country in search of mines and slaves, established 
humane relations with the Indians, learned their language, studied 
their records, and while bringing them into schools to teach them 
Christianity, learned from them all that could be discovered concerning 
their own religion, history, and traditions. Franciscans such as 
Sahagun, Torquemada, Motolinia, Landa, and Lizana, Jesuits such as 
Acosta, Duran, and later Clavigero — to mention some of the more 
notable amongst many workers — are the fathers of American history, 
to whose labours is due the preservation of an enormous mass of 
information — all we possess in fact — which would otherwise have 
perished irrevocably. 

It may be safely assumed that little or nothing of importance which 
the Indians themselves knew escaped the researches which these and 
other men of their order conducted with patience and intelligence. 
Those among the early ecclesiastics in whom the critical faculty was 
wanting made good this lack by their diligence, amassing the materials 
which served later writers, to whom fell the task of assorting the con- 
fused historical lumber they had collected. It appears that the Mexi- 
cans knew surprisingly little about their own history, and that their 
trustworthy traditions did not carry them very far back. The Indians 
of Yucatan, in' the time of Diego Landa, were unable to decipher the 
inscriptions on the ruined temples, and only the most vague and im- 
probable legends concerning the buildings of their ancient cities 
survived amongst them. It does not seem, therefore, unreasonable to 
temper our impatience towards Bishop Zumarraga's act of vandalism 
by the reflection that the destroyed records would have probably 
furnished no link between the civilisation of Anahuac and that of 
Yucatan and Central America. 

Authorities consulted on Quetzalcoatl, Sahagun, lib. iii., cap. v.- 
xiv. ; Torquemada, lib. iii., cap., vii. ; Motolinia in Icazbalceta pp. lo, 
30, 65; Mendieta, p. 82-98; Clavigero, tom. ii., p. 11-14; Servanda 
Teresa de Mier in Bustatnanie; Orozco y Berra, tom. i., cap. iv., 
tom. ii., cap. iii.; Brasseur de Bourbourg, lib. ii., cap. iv., lib. iii., 
cap. ii. Chamay, Ancient Cities ; Bulletins of Bureau of American 



This statement is obviously inaccurate ; Cortes has just said that fifty 
steps led to the summit of the chief teocalli which would allow for 
a very modest elevation, whereas the Giralda Tower of Seville Cathe- 
dral was built 300 years before Mexico was discovered and was then 185 
feet high. Neither was it during this first visit to the temple of Tlatel- 
olco in Montezuma's company that the idols were overthrown ; that 
event happened in the teocalli of the great temple on another occasion 
when Montezuma was not present. Most writers — including Prescott 
— misled by Cortes, have confused the two visits and the two different 
temples, but Bemal Diaz makes it perfectly clear that the first visit 
was to the temple adjoining the market place in the Tlatelolco quarter 
of the city. This temple was even loftier than the principal one, and the 
arrangements in both were essentially the same (Orozco y Berra, 
lib. ii., cap. iv. ; Icazbalceta, Dialogos de Cervantes, p. 201). The 
great teocalli of the chief temple was completed in the form in which 
the Spaniards beheld it by Montezuma's grandfather, Ahuitzotl, in 
1487, when the solemn dedication was celebrated by the sacrifice of a 
vast number of human victims, estimated by Torquemada at 72,344 
(Monarchia Indiana, lib. ii., cap. Ixiii.), by Ixtlilxochitl at 80,000 
Historia Chicimeca), but more credibly fixed by the Tellerian and 
Vatican Codices at the still respectable figure of 20,000. Pretexts 
for wars with various tribes were invented in order to procure the 
victims for this ghastly hecatomb, and the ceremony of incessant 
slaughter occupied two days. 

The exact form and dimensions of the temple are not positively 
known, but it is probable that the pyramid was an oblong, measuring 
something over three hundred feet in length at its base and rising in 
graduated terraces to a height of something less than one hundred feet. 
Bemal Diaz {Hist. Verdad., cap. viii.,) says that he coiinted the steps, 
which numbered one hundred andf ourteen , and this tallies almost exactly 
with the statement of Andres Tapia (Relacion, p. 582,) that he counted 
one hundred and thirteen steps. Bemal Diaz also measured the pyra- 
mids at Cholula and Texcoco in the same way, and counted one hundred 
and twenty steps on the former, and one hundred and seventeen on the 
latter, hence, if he was accurate, the great pyramid of Mexico was not 
the loftiest in the empire. Not one of the Spaniards who saw this 


346 Letters of Cortes 

edifice seems to have observed it critically, or to have left a complete 
architectural description of it to posterity. They were all more im- 
pressed with the horrors they witnessed in it and their dreadful signific- 
ance than with the architectural details ; all agree that it was a most awe- 
some place, in which dark, gruesome chambers, smelling like a slaughter 
house, contained hideous idols, smeared with human blood. In these 
dim recesses, demoniacal priests, clad in black robes, with grotesquely 
painted faces, framed in blood-clotted locks, celebrated their inhuman 
rites, and offered smoking hearts on golden salvers to the monstrous 
deities there enthroned. The presiding figure of this theocratic charnel 
house was that of the god of war Huitzilopochtli — the humming bird to 
the left — and of his image Bemal Diaz gives a careful description. Its 
face was distorted and had terrible eyes; the body was covered with 
gold and jewels, and was wound about with the coils of golden 
serpents; in the right hand w-as held a bow, and in the left a bundle 
of arrows. Suspended from the idol's neck was a necklace of human 
heads and hearts made of gold and silver with precious stones set in 
them, and by its side stood the figure of a page, called Huitziton, 
bearing a lance and shield richly jewelled. This little statue of the 
page was carried by the priests in battle, and was also on certain occa- 
sions borne with much pomp through the streets. The honours of these 
altars were shared by Tezcatlipoca — Shining Mirror — who was called 
"the soul of the world." He was a god of law and severe judgment 
and was much dreaded. His statue was of black obsidian, and sus- 
pended from his plaited hair, which was confined in a golden net, 
was an ear made of gold, towards which mounted tongues of smoke 
symbolising ascending praj^ers. On the summit of the teocalli stood 
a great cylindrical drum tlapanhiiehnetl) , made of serpents' skins, 
which was beaten on certain solemn occasions, and as an alarum. It 
is said to have given forth a most sinister sound, which could be heard 
for miles. During the siege, the Spaniards had sad cause to shudder 
at its fearsome roll which announced the sacrifice of their captive com- 
rades, whose white, naked bodies were even discernible in the dusky 
procession which moved, in the glare of torches and the sacred fires, 
up the terraces of the pyramid on its way to the stone of sacrifice. 
The area of the courtyard, some twelve hundred feet square, was 
paved with flat polished stones, which were so slippery the Spaniards' 
horses could hardly keep their footing. Four gates in the surrounding 
wall, called coatepantli, gave entrance to the courtyard, one facing 
each of the cardinal points, and over each gate there was kept a store 
of arms in readiness for attack or defence. Sahagun {Hist. Niieva 
Espana, torn, i., p. 197) enumerates seventy-eight different buildings 
inside the wall surrounding the courtyard; they comprised chapels, 
cells for priests, fountains for ablutions, quarters for students and 
attendants, and a number of smaller teocalli. This tallies with the 
description of Cortes and Bemal Diaz, and makes it evident that the 
entire group of buildings somewhat resembled the Kremlin at Moscow, 

Appendix V. Second Letter 347 

or a vast cathedral close. In one of the temples the Spaniards esti- 
mated that a symmetrical pyramid of bones contained one hundred and 
thirty-six thousand human skulls. Amongst these temples there was 
one dedicated to Quetzalcoatl, circular in form and having its entrance 
built in imitation of a serpent's open mouth. Bernal Diaz says that 
this was a veritable hell, or abode of demons, in which they saw 
frightful idols, cauldrons of water in which to prepare the flesh of the 
victims, which the priests ate, and furnishings like those of a butcher's 
stall; so that he never called the place other than "hell." 

Human sacrifices and cannibalism were practised even in honour of 
the beneficent deity of the Toltecs, whose mild teachings, pure life, 
and aversion to war, persuade us that he must have been a Christian 
bishop. Nothing more conclusively proves that, in spite of their 
material prosperity, their extended empire, and a certain refinement in 
their social life, the Aztecs occupied a much lower moral and intel- 
lectual level than did their Toltec predecessors in Anahuac. From 
the Toltecs they had received the foundations of their civilisation ; all 
that was good in their religion or true in their philosophy, all that was 
known amongst them of science, they received from that mysterious 
race whose only records are a few neglected and almost unknown 

After the conquest, the great temple was razed to the ground. In 
its foundations were found a quantity of treasures, which had been 
placed there as offerings when the pyramid was first begun. The 
stone idols and carvings were for the most part built into the founda- 
tions of the Christian cathedral which stands upon its site. 

Montezuma had readily assented, very soon after the arrival of the 
Spaniards, to the installation of a chapel in the Spanish quarters, and 
a room was consequently prepared, in which mass was said daily, as 
long as the supply of wine held out. The soldiers said their daily 
prayers before the cross and the sacred images, especially at the hour 
of the Ave Maria. 

While seeking for the best place to erect the altar in this room, 
Alonso Yanez discovered a concealed door, which Cortes, who was 
informed of the discovery, ordered to be forced open. Beyond was a 
vast chamber containing the treasure of Axayacatl and other Aztec 
kings, forming a great heap of gold and jewels in the centre of the 
room, while all the walls were covered with splendid stuffs, thick 
feather-work, shields, and other objects of precious metals. After 
inspecting the fabulous collection, Cortes had the door sealed up 
again, and cautioned his followers not to betray their knowledge of 
its existence to the Mexicans (Bernal Diaz, cap. xciii.). Andres de 
Tapia's account (Incazbalceta, Doc. Ined., torn, ii., p. 580) says that 
Cortes told Montezuma of his discovery, and that the emperor pre- 
sented him with all the gold and jewels in that treasury. 

After repeated conversations with Montezuma on religious subjects, 
none of which seemed to advance his conversion, the patience of Cortes 

348 Letters of Cortes 

gave out. and it was when the Spaniards had been about five months 
in the city that the destruction of the idols in the great teocalli took 
place. The scene in the temple is characteristic of the times and the 

Human life was cheap in Cortes's eyes, and the cruelties inflicted 
on the natives in the furtherance of his designs show that it was not 
the inhumanity of the sacrifices which filled him with the most abhor- 
rence. It was the sight of idolatry, of people given over to devil 
worship, that inflamed his Catholic blood, and there seems, on this 
occasion, to have been no friar Olmedo at hand to restrain him, as 
in Cholula. He first called the priests together and delivered a pious 
exhortation, explaining the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of 
man, and other Christian beliefs, conjuring them to abandon the super- 
stitions which imperilled their immortal souls, to purify the altars, 
and dedicate them to the true God and the saints. As the priests 
defended their own, the controversy enraged Cortes beyond control, 
and seizing an instrument he began smashing the idols right and left 
with such magnificent fury that Andres de Tapia declared that he 
seemed like a supernatural being. Montezuma was notified, and 
entreated him for prudence's sake to desist, as such profanation would 
provoke an uprising of the people. Cortes, however, was deaf to re- 
monstrance, and the idols were cast out, the temple washed and put 
in order, two altars being set up, one to Our Lady and the other to 
Saint Christopher, with their respective statues upon them. Mass 
was thenceforth said there, and some of the Indians came to the 
ceremony, as they wanted rain and, their own gods being overthrown, 
they were willing to invoke the Spaniards' God. Cortes declared they 
should have rain, and, with the most confident faith, ordered prayers 
and a procession to obtain this blessing; although the procession set 
forth under a cloudless sky, it returned after Mass in such a down- 
pour that the people waded ankle deep in the streets. Malintzin's 
religion was vindicated (Andres de Tapia Relacion, p. 584-6). 



This was Pedro de Alvarado. Simultaneously four messengers ar- 
rived from Montezuma to complain that the captain had ordered an 
unprovoked attack upon the Mexicans during a religious festival, and 
that the latter had merely defended themselves as best they could. 
The feast of Toxcatl fell upon the tenth of May, and only the highest 
and noblest adorned with their richest ornaments, but unarmed, 
took part in the ceremonial dance. Cortes had consented, before he 
left Mexico, to the usual celebration, with the proviso that there should 
be no human sacrifices, though very likely the priests reserved their 
intention to perform that part of the rites privately. The first con- 
trariety arose from Alvarado's refusal to allow the statue of Huitzilo- 
pochtli to be restored to its former place, from which it had been 
ejected to make room for the altars to the Blessed Virgin and St. 
Christopher. The Tlascalans next excited his suspicions that the 
festival was merely a pretext to collect a large multitude in the city, 
the real object being to fall upon the diminished garrison and exter- 
minate it. On the day of the feast, Alvarado and others saw certain 
idols, decked out for the procession, standing in the court of the temple, 
and also three youths in new robes and with shaven heads, which indi- 
cated that they were destined for sacrifice. Alvarado seized the in- 
tended victims, and, by putting them to worse tortures than those of 
the sacrificial stone, under which one of them died, he obtained such 
testimony as he wanted from the other two, who were mere lads, to 
prove that a general revolt was planned. What these poor creatures 
could be supposed to know of such conspiracies does not appear, but 
Alvarado was satisfied, and, arming his men, he left some in charge 
of Montezuma, with orders to kill the nobles who were with him, and 
repaired with the others to the great teocalU, where six hundred nobles 
and priests were dancing, while some three thousand others assisted 
as spectators. The appearance of the Spaniards caused no interruption, 
but, at a given signal, they drew their weapons and fell upon the defence- 
less people, slaughtering them without quarter; the doors were guarded, 
so few escaped, but they gave the alarm and roused the city. Mean- 
while the nobles of the court had been slain, and the Spaniards had 
fortified themselves inside their quarters. The exact place where the 
dance took place is uncertain, as neither Cortes nor Bernal Diaz mentions 


350 Letters of Cortes 

it; Acosta contradictinp most of the early writers, argues that it must 
have been the court of the palace where Montezuma was. It nowhere 
appears, however, that Montezuma was present, and, as the dance was a 
religious rite, the temple court would seem more indicated for its cele- 
bration. Alvarado, who was wounded on the head by a stone, ap- 
peared before Montezuma crying : "See what your subjects have done ! " 
but the Emperor answered that had he not begun the disturbance the 
Mexicans would have remained peaceable, adding, "You have undone 
yourself and me." Nor did Alvarado's explanations satisfy Cortes, 
who openly showed his anger upon his arrival. 

Indeed, his conduct seems destitute of any reasonable excuse, and his 
efTorts to exculpate himself at his trial were weak and confused; at best 
he had but the word of a captive, an intended victim, and that 
wrung from him under torture. Replying to Art. IV., of the accusations 
against him he alleged, (i) that it was common report in the city that, 
during Cortes's absence, the reduced garrison would be crushed; (2) on 
the morning of the festival he had seen a large number of sharp pointed 
sticks, with which the Mexicans openly boasted they would kill him 
and his men; (3) the admission of the captive victim, which was con- 
firmed by a native of Texcoco; (4) that a skirmish had already taken 
place in the palace, in which he himself was wounded, and one Span- 
iard was killed, and that all would have shared the same fate. Torque- 
mada adds the detail that huge cauldrons were prepared in which to 
cook the Spaniards. Las Casas advances the theory usual with him, 
that Alvarado wished to strike such a blow as would terrorise the 
Indians. Herrera admits that a revolt may have been brewing, but 
deprecates the wholesale massacre and the taking of jewels from the 
dead bodies. Clavigero scouts the idea of a conspiracy, and affirms 
that this was an invention to shield Alvarado. Oviedo, Sahagun, 
and Fr. Duran, all exempt the Indians of rebellious intentions. Setting 
aside the weighty unanimity of these authorities on the question of the 
alleged conspiracy, Alvarado's conduct would still be without justifica- 
tion, even had there been an intention to attack him, for his proper 
course would have been to collect all the Spaniards and Tlascalans in his 
quarters, with sufficient provisions, hold Montezuma and the court 
nobles as hostages, notify Cortes by messenger, and stand strictly on 
the defensive until help or instructions came. The situation cannot be 
properly paralleled with that of Cortes in Cholula, for the conditions 
were entirely different. Alvarado was the most violent of all the 
Spanish captains, and his brutality culminated in this inhuman mas- 
sacre, which drove the long suffering Mexicans to desperation; it 
destroyed the last illusion about the celestial origin and character of the 
white men, and brought on the tragedy of the Sorrowful Night, and 
the siege, with its long train of misery and destruction. From that day 
forward, the Mexicans were deaf to all overtures from the Spaniards; 
regardless of suffering, and indifferent to death, they sought only 



Montezuma's assurance to the people that he was not held a prisoner, 
but lived with the Spaniards from choice, free to come and go at his 
pleasure, was so contrary to obvious facts, and his reproof to them 
for taking arms, as though they had been the aggressors, was so unjust, 
that he failed to secure the cessation of hostilities. On the contrary, 
he had hardly finished speaking when the young prince Quauhtemotzin, 
who was one of the leaders of the people, reviled him as a coward and 
the effeminate tool of the Spaniards, declaring that his subjects re- 
nounced obedience to one who had so degraded his royal dignity. 
With that he hurled a stone, and, in the volley of missiles which fol- 
lowed, one struck the Emperor on the head {Codex Ramirez in 
Orozco y Berra, tom. iv., cap. x. ; Acosta, Hist. Nat. y. Moral de las 
Indias, lib. vii., cap. xxvi.). Clavigero refuses to believe that Quauhte- 
motzin so insulted his royal uncle, but offers no reason for his disbelief. 
The Spaniards, who had been charged to protect Monteztmia's person 
with their shields, were not quick enough, and it is said he was also 
wounded by arrows in the arm and in the leg. The wounds were not, 
however, serious, but the unfortunate monarch was evidently deter- 
mined not to survive this supreme humiliation, and, refusing to allow 
his hurts to be properly dressed, he remained without food in a pro- 
foundly dejected condition. Herrera describes Cortes as showing the 
greatest concern, solicitously visiting the Emperor to comfort him, 
but it seems little likely that in the midst of his perilous occupations 
the commander found time to condole with his wounded captive, for 
Montezuma's tardy eflEorts for peace had failed completely, and, though 
Prescott says that the Aztecs "shocked at their own sacrilegious 
act. . .dispersed, panic-struck in different directions ... so that not 
one of the multitudinous array remained in the great square," there 
seems to be no authority for believing that any such dramatic revulsion 
of feeling took place. Montezuma had fallen from his royalty and his 
high priesthood, to be a thing of scorn and loathing to his people, 
while his influence on the course of events was less than nil. 

Montezuma Xocoyotzin ninth king of Mexico died on June 30, 1520, 
in the fifty-fourth year of his age, the eighteenth of his reign, and in 
the seventh month of his captivity. 

His death was attributed, by the Spaniards, to the wound caused 


352 Letters of Cortes 

by the stone, which struck him on the head; by the Mexicans, it was 
on the contrary, asserted that he was put to death by Cortes. The 
Codex Ramirez, before quoted from the work of Orozco y Berra, states 
that Montezuma was found stabbed to death by the Spaniards, with 
the other chiefs who shared his captivity. Acosta accepts this as 
true, and Father Duran (cap. 76) says "They found him dead with 
chains upon his feet, and five dagger wounds in his breast, and with him 
manv other of the chiefs and lords who were prisoners." Amongst 
the nobles were the kings of Tlacopan and Texcoco and the lord of 
Tlatelolco. Cacamatzin, according to Ixtlilxochitl was stabbed forty- 
five times, and he adds that Montezuma died from the wound in his 
head, "although his vassals say that the Spaniards themselves killed 
him, and plunged a sword into his fundament " (aptid, Orozco y 
Berra, tom. iv., cap. x.). The murder of the other chiefs was deemed 
necessary, as it was neither possible to be burdened with them in the 
flight from the city, nor was it wise to release them. Their bodies were 
thrown out of the Spanish quarters at a spot called Teayotl, because of a 
stone turtle which stood there, in the hope that their fate might dis- 
courage the people, and also give them occupation in preparing their 
funerals as required by custom (Sahagun, lib. xii., cap. xxiii. ; Ixtlil- 
xochitl, Hist. Chichitneca) . Cortes's account of the wounding and 
death of Montezuma was naturally followed by Gomara; Oviedo also 
copies his words, and says that he heard the same account viva voce 
from Pedro de Alvarado; Herrera asserts that the emperor's wound 
was not mortal (lib. x., cap. x.), but that he died because he refused 
all attendance and food ; and Bernal Diaz, who relates the same story, 
adds the affecting detail that Cortes and all the captains and soldiers 
wept as though they had lost a father (Verdadera Hist., cap. cxxvi.), 
which those may believe who can. Clavigero refers to the grief of the 
Spaniards, as described by Bernal Diaz, and says that, in view of the 
contradictory accounts, it seems impossible to know the truth adding, 
" I cannot believe that the Spaniards would take the life of a king to 
whom they owed so many benefits, and from whose death they would 
derive only evil." He does not say why he cannot believe this; 
Montezuma's influence was gone; another leader had been chosen by 
the nation in the person of the brave Quauhtemotzin, and when Cortes 
announced his death, offering to deliver his body for burial they cried 
out: "We want Montezuma neither living nor dead !" (Herrera, lib. 
x., cap. X.) Hence the fallen sovereign's presence was only an em- 
barrassment to Cortes, who was planning to fight his way out of the city 
with as few encumbrances as possible — even the precious gold was 
being left behind. The moment the emperor became an obstacle, his 
doom was sealed, and there was nothing in the character or conduct of 
Cortes which warrants the belief that he was influenced by sentiments 
of compassion for the king he had degraded, while his disposal of Caca- 
matzin at that time, and of Quauhtamotzin later in Yucatan, revealed 
the absence of any scruples whatever. Prescott joins Clavigero in his 

Appendix VII. Second Letter 353 

generous assumption, and with a fine outburst of indignation finds it 
"hardly necessary to comment on the absurdity of this monstrous im- 
putation." Such sentiments do credit to the magnanimity of these 
writers, for it is manifestly the nobler part to admit such a charge 
against Cortes, only when forced by irrefutable proofs, which in this 
case are not forthcoming. Orozco y. Berra, the results of whose ex- 
haustive researches are expressed in calm, judicial language in his 
Conquista de Mexico, adopts the Indian version. Clavigero has 
perhaps said the most that generous impartiality will allow, when 
he states that "There reigns such variety among historians that it 
seems impossible to verify the truth." Torquemada (lib. iv., cap. 
Ixx.) records that Montezuma's body was taken to Copalco where 
it was cremated, according to the Aztec usage, though the solem- 
nity was marred by the insults heaped by some of the by-standers 
upon the hapless corpse. Herrera was of the opinion, that the body 
was buried at Chapultepec, because the Spaniards heard great la- 
mentations in that quarter, and because that was the place of royal 
sepulture, but the observation of Clavigero on this opinion, that there 
was no fixed place for burying the sovereigns and that Chapultepec, 
being some three miles distant from the Spanish quarters it was hardly 
likely they could have heard lamentations, seems to weaken this 

Diego Munoz Camargo, the Tlascallan historian, would seem to be 
the chief authority for the pious legend that Montezuma was baptised 
by his own desire just before he died, and that Cortes and Pedro de 
Alvarado were his godfathers. Gomara asserts that the Emperor had 
expressed his wish to become a Christian prior to Cortes's departure 
from Mexico to meet Narvaez, but that the ceremony was deferred 
until Easter so that it might be celebrated with more solemnity, and 
was afterwards forgotten amid the confusion of the changed circum- 
stances. The silence of Cortes on a matter he would have been eager 
to report in his letters, seems alone sufficient to dispose of the assertion, 
and Torquemada, who would also have not been slow to enroll a royal 
convert, does not admit the story (Monarchia Indiana, lib. iv., cap. 
Ixx.). A most instructive dissertation on this subject is contained 
in an interesting study by Don Jos^ Fernando Ramirez entitled 
Bautismo de Motecuhzoma II., Noveno Rey de Mexico. 

A pathetic figure is that of this Aztec king, gifted with some of the 
highest qualities of his race, venerated during a long and prosperous 
reign almost as a demi-god, only to be humbled to the very dust. The 
starting point of his downfall was his superstition, for had he listened to 
his generals rather than to his priests Cortes and his handful of 
adventurers would never have left the sea-coast alive. The misfortunes 
and humiliations of the last months of his life seem to have completely 
changed his character, so that from the time of his docile abdication 
at the bidding of Cortes, to the infamy of his appearance on the walls 
of the Spanish quarters to rebuke his long-suffering people, was but a 

354 Letters of Cortes 

step on the way to the nameless grave where his dishonoured form 
was finally laitl. • 

Prescott's description of the scenes of Montezuma's death-bed, with 
Cortes present to whom he confided his daughters, is based upon 
Cortes's own narration made in the grant afterwards cpnceded to one 
of the daughters, Dona Isabel, when she married Alonzo Grado, who is 
described in the same document as an hidalgo of Alcantara (Prescott, 
lib. iv., cap. ii.) 

It is to Cortes's credit that he recognised the debt of the Spanish 
crown to Montezuma, and that he procured the royal protection for his 




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